Nearly half of the fall semester’s 379 remote students opted to return to campus this spring. These students face unique challenges acclimating to the countless ways COVID-19 has transformed campus life.
Vassar’s success at containing COVID-19 outbreaks during the fall semester encouraged many previously remote students to return to campus. “The success of fall definitely played a role in me deciding to come back” explained Temishi Onnekikami ’21. Several students were enticed by the potential of having access to in-person classes. For Onnekikami, the opportunity to use on campus studio space to complete her senior Studio Art project was a driving motivation to return to campus: “I’m doing my senior project, and I was like I’m not about to do this without a studio.”
Seniors felt an particularly urgent desire to return to Vassar’s campus for the last semester of their college experience. Hikari Tanaka ’21 felt drawn to return to campus to take advantage of what could be her last opportunity to spend extensive time with several close friends. “It’s my last semester ever at Vassar, and I may realistically never see some of my friends from other countries or even from farther U.S. states after this year,” said Tanaka.
However, the decision to return to campus was not an easy choice for all. Griffin Wells ’22 explained, “I wanted to come back to campus so that I could take in-person classes, but I was still unsure about the risks of flying and feeling socially isolated on campus.”
Without detailed information addressing potential points of confusion, previously remote students have sought guidance from peers and had to pick up on context clues in order to understand the minutiae of daily campus life during a pandemic. Nicole Stern ’22 shared, “There was no guide or protocols sent out so I really spent the first week watching people to make sure I was doing the right thing.”
Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana acknowledged that the College received consistent feedback that communication to remote students needed improvement. “Given this, we established a subcommittee of administrators led by Will Rush in the Campus Activities Office to help organize programming and to consistently communicate and check-in with our remote students about their needs,” explained Alamo-Pastrana. “We will continue to solicit feedback until we get this right. I continue to be grateful to our students for their engagement in helping us do better,” he added.
Students returning to campus for the first time have also faced difficulty navigating friendships with peers who have varying standards for following COVID-19 safety guidelines. “Life on campus has socially been sobering,” shared Rachael Hahn ’21. “I regularly hear about people breaking the rules on campus—some of whom I know well. And it has, unfortunately, resulted in my having to step away from some of my friendships which has been heartbreaking,” she explained.
After spending many months with their families, formerly remote students are also struggling with the social isolation that COVID-19 regulations create. Stern has struggled with the physical distancing protocols required by Vassar’s regulations, despite having regular Zoom events with friends. “I’ve thought a lot, ‘Man, I could really use a hug,’ and the concept that I won’t be able to hug anyone till June has really messed with my head,” said Stern.
Despite the countless challenges of adjusting to campus life during a pandemic, previously remote students are grateful to see their friends again. “Socially it has been very good, because I just missed my friends so much,” said Milani.While the new normal of campus life can be painful, some have found the learning curve to be a valuable growth experience. “I think coming to terms with those kinds of changes is a part of the college experience,” concluded Hahn.