Zooming on Campus? College Students Reflect on Their Schools’ Plans for Fall

Zooming on Campus? College Students Reflect on Their Schools’ Plans for Fall (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

With the new school year approaching, colleges are finalizing plans for learning in the fall. While many larger public universities prepare to hold classes entirely online, a number of smaller colleges plan to re-open to some degree this fall. Some schools may welcome everyone back to campus, others may only hold in-person classes for select students. Even though many colleges have already made their announcements, students are still grappling with the uncertainty of how these plans will actually pan out when school starts.

We asked students attending Northwestern, University of the South, Bowdoin and University of California Los Angeles about taking classes virtually (or not), staying socially distanced and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Lucy Barnum, Freshman

Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois)

Photo courtesy of Lucy Barnum

School’s plan: Northwestern, with a student population of 21,000, is reopening campus for all students. Some classes will have in-person learning and some will be conducted remotely. Lucy Barnum will be living in a dorm on campus, but anticipates that her classes will be entirely online. 

Daisy Okazaki: What are your thoughts on Northwestern’s plans for the fall?

Lucy Barnum: I feel selfish to want to go back to school. I prefer to have a real college experience, but obviously that’s not at all realistic and I didn’t expect that. I think one of the biggest questions I have is about dorm stuff. Like come on, you can’t expect college students to not get together and party, that’s very unrealistic. And so I wonder what’s going to happen when people inevitably do that and how strict are they going to make the rules. It’s complicated.

DO: Do you have concerns about COVID spreading at your school?

LB: It does concern me, absolutely. I definitely am not planning on loosening up any kind of personal precautions before we know that it’s really actually safe to do that. But you know, I am privileged enough to be healthy and not have underlying issues. But if I did, that would be terrifying. 

DO: Is there anything you would change about Northwestern’s plan?

LB:  I think it’s the best that they can be doing. But it’s hard to judge until you’re there. If there’s a huge spike of coronavirus, then yeah, their reaction is going to reflect pretty badly on that. But if there’s no spike or if something happens that drastically improves the situation, then they’ll look like they were being too cautious. So I think considering all of the variables they’re doing a pretty good job.

Tess McDonald, Senior

The University of The South (Sewanee, Tennessee)

Photo courtesy of Tess McDonald

School’s plan: Sewanee, with a population of more than 1,900, is bringing all students back to campus in the fall with a mix of remote and socially distanced in-person classes. Tess is happy to have the opportunity to go back to school, but has some concerns about the social culture on campus. 

DO: So how are you feeling about Sewanee’s plans for the fall?

Tess McDonald: The vice chancellor talked a lot about how this really needs to be taken seriously, which honestly I agree with. It would be a gross misjudgment to not take it seriously, and put others at risk knowing the gravity of what’s actually going on. 

Granted, I would love my senior year to be normal. But I’d rather the school take it seriously and be hard on us than just let us carry on like we usually do. 

DO: What are some of your worries?

TM: Sewanee is a relatively small university. I think my class has 480 students total. And so class size and that sort of thing is the least of our concerns as far as social distancing. Because the maximum class size — if you’re not in a lecture hall — is 15 to 20 students. And that’s fairly easy to spread out. 

Sewanee has a pretty large Greek population — 78 percent of students are in a fraternity or sorority. And Sewanee is a very social campus. I’m my sorority’s president, so I’ll be living in the sorority’s house. And most of the sororities have houses with seven or eight people living in them.

So everything outside of the classroom is what I’m concerned about. It sounds selfish to be concerned about the social aspect of it. But in a place where that’s so prominent and unavoidable, that’s our biggest concern.

DO:  With your school having a large Greek population, do you think that students will practice social distancing?

TM: I think it depends on which class. I think the incoming freshmen — who didn’t get to have their end of senior year — are just happy to be out of the house and in college. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to just be there. I’m not too worried about them. I’m worried more about sophomores and juniors that have an expectation of what Sewanee has been like compared to what it will be like this fall.

For my friends and I who are seniors and 21, many of us have off-campus housing at this point. So we will be able to meet up in small groups and [hang out] responsibly. But that’s only 50 percent of the campus that may be able to control themselves.

Sam Thomson, Freshman

Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine)

Photo courtesy of Sam Thomson

School’s plan: Bowdoin has a student population of 1,800. The school is only allowing its freshman class on campus with a few exceptions. Students will live in single dorm rooms and will be tested twice a week. Almost all classes will be taught remotely. While Bowdoin is the only school in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) that will not be re-opening to all students.

DO: Why do you think that Bowdoin made the decision to only let the freshmen back on campus?

Sam Thomson: It is kind of weird that Bowdoin is the only one [in NESCAC] doing it like that. But I think it makes sense just because they don’t want to be in a situation where they have to send everybody home for a second time [like schools did in March]. I think this is really just out of an abundance of caution, better safe than sorry.

DO: And how are you feeling about their plans for the fall?

ST: Personally, I think I’m kind of looking forward to it.

On the one hand, it’ll be nice, sort of like a bonding moment for our class. This would be something that we went through together. And it will be nice to just interact with each other. But at the same time, with only one class on campus, a lot of the experience of being on a bigger campus is going to be taken away because of their plan.

DO: Do you have concerns about being around other students?

ST: No, not really. I think they’re really doing their best to keep us distanced as best they can. And because everyone is being tested so frequently, I think there’s a lower risk, hopefully, of community spread.

Sonyamia Blanco, Freshman

University of California, Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Sonyamia Blanco

School’s plan: UCLA is the largest California university, enrolling over 31,500 undergraduates. The school will offer some laboratory, performing arts and medical school courses on-site with limited on-campus housing. The majority of classes will be remote. Housing is difficult to get for California residents so Sonyamia Blanco plans to live with roommates in an apartment in Los Angeles and do her freshman year entirely online. She is majoring in world arts and cultures with a minor in film.

Daisy Okazaki: How are you feeling about UCLA’s plans for learning in the fall?

Sonyamia Blanco: It’s kind of sad, but at the same time what else can you really do? It feels kind of weird because I didn’t get the closure of senior year. And then I’m not really getting the first year experience of college. So it’s like I’m jumping from half of senior year to half of college if that makes sense. 

DO: How do you feel about starting college online? Do you have concerns with how you’ll learn?

SB: Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely just not going to really feel like college at all. I’m still obviously going to be motivated to do the work and everything. But when I think of a film class, I think of it being hands-on, using camera equipment and doing that in person. I never thought I’d be taking a film class online. So I’ll definitely have to get used to it. And it is unfortunate, but at the same time, I do understand.

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