For 16 months, the University of Redlands conducted all classes virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. In the 2021 spring semester, the university allowed some students to live on campus, but still held classes virtually. Due to the distribution of vaccines in the spring and summer months of 2021, the university announced it would welcome all students back to campus, allowing full residence of student housing and conducting in-person classes.
As students now well know, the University has implemented new policies in order to open its doors again, including mandated vaccines for those without medical and religious exemptions. The university also requires masks for all students and employees while indoors, and student ID checks are conducted to verify vaccination or ensure the completion of weekly testing and daily health checks. Furthermore, the University has implemented new sanitation guidelines to ensure safety and sanitation in common areas by providing Lysol wipes in every classroom for before and after use.
Returning to campus this semester is more exciting than ever before. Coming out of a year of remote learning, on August 27, most first- and second-year students moved onto the university campus for the first time. Seeing students and their parents moving in and out of buildings carrying their room decor was charged with excitement as some students took in their surroundings and new home for the first time.
As we were discussing an assignment, ironically over a screen, sophomore Bailey Manning-Tracy told me, “It is very exciting, I found a different sense of community that I wasn’t expecting and everyone is super nice.”
This sense of community is palpable in the air, especially in these beginning months. A big part of Redlands’ school culture is clubs and organizations. Jett Otsuka, a sophomore on the Mock Trial team, told me that it’s “way different meeting people outside of a computer screen… Last semester, classes were hard, but now they are so much better.” It seems that students are more academically engaged with a renewed sense of vigor since being on campus.
This sentiment was echoed by many staff and first-year students as well. A sophomore named Noah told me that, “Being on campus is better than online because you get that connection that you don’t get online.” He went on to say that “human to human interaction is what makes education so special.”
That face to face interaction between peers and faculty is what makes our education here so special; and it is something that most students have made clear they missed while classes were conducted virtually.
I decided to take this story of being back in a community where community happens at its core: the Commons. A senior who had not attended courses on campus since sophomore year, Oliva Vara, told me, “It feels really good and I’m happy to be back. It’s great to see my friends again.” Nicholas Poveda, also in his last year of undergrad at the University of Redlands, concurred, adding that “it feels really good to work with professors and students again.”
The next group of friends I found to interview were from the music department and all reiterated that it was wonderful to be able to play instruments in groups again. Daniela Gonzales said, “As a music student, I think it is very exciting to be back in our element and be able to sing and make music with people again.” Another member of her group, Chris Schnalzer, said, “As a music major it is just really nice to appreciate performing and seeing live music again.”
However, there is also some lingering anxiety around being back in person and being in close contact with others in a way that we haven’t been in almost two years. A junior named Celeste shed light on some of these anxieties: “It’s a lot. I like seeing everyone but it is still kind of scary. I don’t really want to be in big groups anymore.” Her insight into the anxieties of being back in a public space after 16 months is helpful to understanding how our campus lives have changed due to the pandemic and how acclimating to normal campus life is not linear.
Being back on campus has a variety of emotions attached to it. For the past 16 months we have all had to do academics virtually, which most students I talked to felt was difficult both academically and socially. For many students of all years, the sense of being back in a physical classroom setting brings excitement and comes with a renewed sense of academic vigor. However, despite the general excitement, it is important not to overlook the social anxieties given this pandemic is not yet over.