Returning to College Amid a Pandemic 

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On Friday, August 14th, 2020, I returned to the small, quiet campus of New England College. Upon arrival, I thought about what returning to campus would actually mean. I knew I would feel the absence of the events that breathe life into the campus, and its student body – basketball games that fostered school spirit, bingo nights that caused uproars in the Great Room, and the lightheartedness of River Day, just to name a few. College hosted events brought students together, and gave us a venue to socialize in a town that is generally isolated.

I also knew I would not be able to sit inside of Gilmore dining hall with all of my friends. With our busy schedules and involvement in different clubs, coming together to eat was one of the best parts of my day. I knew there would be no more long nights in the Coffee House in Charter – no game nights crowded around the television awaiting for my turn, or snacks to eat as students socialized. I knew my dorm would be my classroom, and I was okay with that because that meant I wouldn’t have to walk on snow and unforgiving ice going between classes.

There was a noticeable difference about the atmosphere of New England College – the lack of students. Most who decided to return to campus had not moved in yet, but the streets appeared deserted. The only people in eye-shot wore red t-shirts and face masks, as they waved down cars that pulled into Simon lot. Reality settled in that this was the new normal, and it made me feel uneasy. In the following days, more students trickled in and sorted themselves among on campus housing. Yet, the sidewalks were still bare, and it felt as though everyone was inside.

New England College hired a professional team of movers to aid the students moving into on campus housing. The college didn’t want anyone besides students to go inside of the residence halls. They moved quickly and fluidly, as they packed suitcases and furniture into big red carts, and lugged them up the stairs of my residence hall. It only took a few trips for them to bring all of my possessions upstairs to my congested dorm room. The movers did not talk much unless they were asking or answering a question. The same team of men and women returned day after day to assist students. It certainly was a lot more convenient to have movers there to help carry the objects I always struggle to bring to my dorm room, such as my refrigerator and giant suitcase.

Going to Gilly, I did not know what to expect. I heard that another college, Bates in Maine, served food through take-out boxes. The dining hall layout was a cross between take-out and buffet. Black stickers were utilized to mark where students had to stand to wait for food. I was handed a plastic bag filled with utensils and napkins before making my rounds. The usual dishes were offered, and a plastic barrier hung between the server and me. Papers marked with black arrows told students where to walk to get to the exit.

Coming back to campus riddled me with different emotions – shock, stress, and acceptance. I have learned to adapt to this new normal. It is not the most ideal of circumstances, but I am not alone. As students and faculty, we are all facing this pandemic together. It is up to us to be resilient.

New England College has done an admirable job of hosting socially distanced events on campus. The recent Connections Fair went very well – Anthony Wright DJ’d in the center of Simon Lawn, as students walked from table to table. Instead of sign-up sheets, each table displayed a QR code that students could scan instead. Then, a movie night took place on the Quad. The film shown was Black Panther in honor of Chadwick Boseman who recently passed away from stage four cancer. The limited seating was first come, first serve.

As the college maintains control over COVID-19, I am confident that more in-person events will take place in the foreseeable future.

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