On the first night I moved into college, I sat in my room alone on Zoom answering basic ice breaker questions like, “what superpower would you want to have?” and “what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” with only about six other girls who had moved in on my floor. It was the first night of our phased move-in process. This was when it fully hit me that if a group of under 10 hallmates would not be able to meet in person, this semester was going to be very different.
Realizing I am a freshman, sympathetic upperclassmen offer me heartfelt lines like, “I feel so bad for you guys” or “y’all have it rough this semester.” They detailed stories of basketball games, Wren Tens and packed basement parties that we won’t be able to experience this semester. Missing out on these social and community experiences is making the adjustment to college more isolating.
First year students are restricted to making friends within their dorm halls. Capacity limits in dorm rooms and lounges force students to exclude friends from gatherings. There are no athletic events or concerts to boost a sense of school spirit. Many students are restricted by the tiny virtual boxes of Zoom when it comes to developing relationships with their professors and classmates. All this while students like me face difficult decisions when it comes to navigating interpersonal relationships during a pandemic.
However, students are finding creative ways to move past these current issues. Freshmen are getting involved in various clubs and organizations. Personally, I have come to realize that rushing a sorority helped me meet freshmen in other dorms and many upperclassmen in a safe and healthy way. Students are taking advantage of outdoor spaces to gather with their friends. Having an afternoon picnic on the Sunken Garden, playing volleyball and spikeball on Yates Field, taking long walks into Colonial Williamsburg and doing yoga at the Matoaka Amphitheatre are some ways students stay social in the Williamsburg outdoors. Students work around the limits of Zoom classes by creating study groups and scheduling one-on-one office hours with their professors.
For me, one of the most mentally challenging parts of the freshman experience this fall semester is the accelerated schedule. All students are experiencing the stress that comes with a faster-paced semester with no breaks.
Professors are scheduling tests and quizzes on weekends to make up for lost instructional time and students are constantly playing catch-up on Sunday nights. The high-intensity pace that the freshmen are working at is a significant adjustment from most high schools.
The stress from the accelerated schedule compounded by the sheer anxiety of COVID-19 worries and the pressure of adapting to a new social environment is creating an unhealthy mental environment for freshmen. Our college community needs to do more to provide a way for students to alleviate some of the stress that comes from this new anxiety-provoking dynamic.
The freshman experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult. However, the freshmen who are living on campus are very lucky to have a somewhat normal experience compared to other college students who did not even have the option of coming on campus. Freshmen can only hope the sacrifices we make in our first year will lead to a more social, interactive, inclusive and typical college experience in the years to come.
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