By Ellyn Fritz|| News Editor
Throughout the summer, Franklin & Marshall students were periodically updated on the college’s plan for reopening. In an effort to de-densify campus, students were informed that first-years and sophomores will each be studying remotely for an entire semester, an unexpected and disheartening announcement to those students who had hoped to be on campus for the fall and spring semesters. While this decision to limit capacity on campus is consistent with other college’s plans to re-open, for first-year students and the sophomores whose second semester was significantly impacted, this is devastating news.
Both the student pledge and the Consequences for Non-Compliance with the F&M Pledge emphasize that the responsibility for the safety and well-being of the F&M community will rest on the students and their actions. For first-year students, the first semester of their college experience will be unlike any other: facing isolation in quarantine, no roommates, no help from their parents to set up their rooms, and solely attending gatherings that are within social distancing guidelines. Signing the pledge indicated that their atypical semester would be in the hopes of preserving the current hybrid system and on-campus living, rather than the student body pivoting to fully remote learning.
To obtain a better understanding of what life is like on campus amidst the pandemic, TCR spoke with several first-year students who were able to provide insight.
One first-year stated, “While our first days of college were far from ordinary, we still found ways to enjoy ourselves. I made many wonderful friends already, even if it was over Zoom with our HA and crew, or in passing in the halls or restrooms. We bonded over the lack of freedom and small annoyances, which is a common topic for college students. We have enjoyed ourselves in innovative ways, gone on masked walks around campus, had social-distancing gatherings in the common areas (maintaining capacity limits, of course), and mastered the art of smiling with our eyes or giving a small wave to others. For now, we will make the best of this unusual situation, and pray for a time when we can meet each other without masks.”
Upon speaking with a first-year who had freshly been released from their initial quarantine period, she expressed the relief that she and many others had, “Receiving the email that we were released from our quarantine meant two things– fresh air and better food. I never imagined I would be so excited about dining hall food, but the “boxed meals” provided to us during our quarantine were only a slight step above edible. The girls on my floor complained about not having enough provided in the measly meals, so we could only imagine how the football players down the hall were coping. During the first meal of freedom after Convocation, there was a line 40 students deep to enter DHall.”
While some first-year students have made the most of their time since arriving on campus and are in a positive head-space, others have expressed concerns and a sense of confusion about how they are supposed to be spending their time.
Closer to move-in and during first-year ‘orientation,’ TCR received an anonymous tip regarding first-year distress in isolation and lack of orientation programs in order for students to connect, which prompted TCR to reach out to other first-year students to procure more information about dorm life, mental health, and overall well-being.
When talking with TCR, Rohail Spear ‘24 said that there has been a lack of orientation programs and that organized in-person events are very rare. However, he noted that walking through the gate with their respected college houses and tie-dying were the most memorable. In terms of programs for connecting students on zoom, Sarah Nicell ‘24 said that while she has tried to attend and participate, most of the time there are only a handful of students that log on.
Both Rohail and Sarah shared that from their perspectives, due to the combination of the lack of programming and confusion about what is allowed, students are struggling to make connections. The most concerning aspect of this is that both Rohail and Sarah felt that the absence of consistency in communication between varying college houses creates an environment of confusion; therefore, students may not be making connections out of fear of getting in trouble for breaking social distancing guidelines and COVID rules.
In years past, students have been able to take initiative during orientation and the initial weeks of school to form connections; however, this year has been more difficult with less personal zoom meetings, a limited amount of in-person gatherings, and different cultures between the houses.
Part of the ‘lack of consistency’ comes from the information Housing Advisors (HAs) are relaying to their residents. Rohail and Sarah mentioned that COVID culture is different depending on what floor students are in within the different dorms, demonstrating the interpretive nature of the guidelines and how the enforcement of the rules is subjective to the HA. Additionally, first-years have had varying initial experiences of life at F&M as the HAs have been in charge of programming and helping the first years acclimate to campus; however, the level of involvement among HAs and their residents is not consistent. Albeit varying levels of involvement and support that comes from the HAs, both Rohail and Sarah spoke highly of what the HAs are doing within the dorms; they have become strict enforcers for COVID guidelines among their peers and while they applied to be a Housing Advisor, the added responsibility that comes from policing first-years about crowd control and masks amidst a pandemic may be more than they signed up for.
When asked about the overall happiness of students in the dorms, Sarah noted that the negativity in the dorms among students may stem from skewed expectations and a romanticized perception about what life in college would be like during a pandemic. While Franklin & Marshall’s strict enforcement of the rules and guidelines has mitigated any potential COVID outbreaks on campus, students believe that finding a better balance to replicate a more normal college experience may be possible. Sarah observed that “we could find a better balance because we have no connections at this time… A lot of people are feeling depressed and struggling to figure out if their unhappiness is because of COVID or the school. Our mental health may be compromised by the lack of connections.”
However, when asked if they felt as though this feeling of isolation was unique to Franklin & Marshall, both Rohail and Sarah said that this experience is what college in COVID is and that while their friends at other schools had freshmen year roommates which made the transition less isolating, first years across the country are experiencing this feeling of loneliness, confusion, and disappointment about the reality that life in college is nothing like in years past.
Without roommates, the stark contrast between on campus and off campus students at F&M is further apparent. Upperclassmen living in off-campus properties typically live with 2-4 other people, making isolation far less lonely, and the comprehensive F&M experience slightly more accessible. Sarah pointed out that “[Not having roommates] acts as a separation barrier to making those connections.” Rohail concurred with her sentiment telling TCRthat “I think that roommates would have been a good thing for Franklin & Marshall to do.”
Junior Ellyn Fritz is the News Editor. Her email is email@example.com.
Investigative Reporter Daniel Robillard and Editor in Chief Ruby Van Dyk contributed to reporting. Their emails are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.