New England Student in COVID


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New England Student in COVID

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It seems as though every winter all of the kids in schools get a cold. Classrooms have a chorus of sniffles and coughs until springtime and we all suffer sickness together. At least, that’s how it started. My college sent an email to all students, staff, and faculty, saying the school would be monitoring the COVID-19 situation in other countries on February 10th, 2020 and there was no threat to worry about. Everyone left for spring break on March 8th, 2020, expecting to be back in a week. Instead, we got an “extra week” of the break to make sure anyone who traveled could quarantine, just in case. That week turned into a handful more and started online classes ASAP. Students were given the opportunity to go back to the college in a 3-hour window to retrieve any materials necessary for a few weeks online until the surge dies down. Fortunately, I am studying computer science, so a majority of my professors had minimal difficulty making the change, but others were not as fortunate. Quickly, the handful of weeks became the remainder of the semester. All courses would be graded on the basis of pass/fail if the students elected for each individual course they were enrolled in, due to the nature of this huge and unprecedented turnaround. All exams were online, many professors canceled their midterms to alleviate stress from the students and fears of cheating. We would receive semi-weekly updates from the college, mostly fluff pieces about missing the student body with information that was important sprinkled in. Eventually, we were permitted to sign up for a window of time to go and move our belongings out of the dorms, once the state allowed outside travelers in.
In the midst of all of the chaos, I transferred colleges and started the next academic year attending one that was much larger and had more resources at its disposal to deal with COVID-19. This school had planned to welcome students back to campus in fall 2020 with a few expectations in place. They had devised a “COVID-19 Compliance” system to keep the population safe and maintain records of who was following protocol. Students would have a “green badge” assigned to them in the morning if: they had completed a daily symptom check-in that was negative, they were up-to-date on their twice-weekly COVID tests and had not been marked as a close contact to someone who had tested positive. Had one of these not been completed, you would have a yellow badge to mark non-compliance, a red badge for isolation, or an orange badge if you were symptomatic. Students must show a green badge to enter ANY campus building. Some classes were online, others hybrid in-person/online at the discretion of the professors. Masks were to be worn at all times, students must get vaccinated once they were eligible, dining areas were to-go only, the campus was littered with signs to promote 6 feet of social distancing, and a student-run campaign called “F*ck It Won’t Cut It” was started to bring attention to the urgency of staying compliant to stay on campus. We would receive weekly updates about the status of the campus’s overall positivity rate. It felt like a shell of a college experience, as students could not visit other students’ residences, no clubs could have in-person meetings, attendance at sporting events was prohibited, and students reporting other students for non-compliance created an atmosphere of disdain.
We are now in the second full academic year of the pandemic and there are a few deviations from what I described for fall 2020. Now, COVID tests are once weekly rather than twice, students can now visit other residences and attend sporting events, all of the dining spaces have opened up to sit-in dining, masks are still required at all times, all classes are in person, and the “F*ck It Won’t Cut It” campaign has been retired. It seems as though we are creeping towards the idea of a “typical” college experience, but it feels like this will have an everlasting impact on the next few incoming classes of students and change college as people know it.

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This item was submitted on December 10, 2021 by Olivia Bene using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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