When the university announced back in February that fall 2021 classes will return to a pre-pandemic structure, the Oxford community let out a collective sigh. It seemed as though things would be back to normal next semester, and the struggles current UM students were facing would be erased. For the current freshman class, though, returning to the “new normal” is anything but normal.
While it’s great that students will get the full college experience next semester when classes are all in-person, the university needs to provide some kind of transition, as they lost the normal freshman transitional period to COVID-19 and online classes.
For most members of the current freshman class, the end of their senior year of high school was spent entirely online, and their freshman year was mostly online with a sparring amount of in-person classes mixed in. These Zoom classes came at the expense of key transitional events for freshmen.
Before coming to the university, I missed out on my high school senior year internship, which would have provided me with leadership and responsibility skills that would have better prepared me for college. My two-day mandatory freshman orientation that would have allowed me to become acquainted with my peers was instead a disconnected, Zoom-based event.
When I actually arrived on campus, I found my freshman year experience to be very isolating due to all of the social events that were canceled or moved online because of COVID-19. Most of the clubs that I signed up for were canceled, and the ones that continued had Zoom meetings that did not allow for the same level of connection that in-person events would have. I also missed out on quintessential UM events — such as football season in the Grove — that would have provided me with a great opportunity to bond with my peers.
In addition to struggling with academics and extracurriculars, COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements have negatively impacted mental health. According to a fall 2020 survey of nearly 33,000 students by a Boston University researcher, nearly 70% of college students are struggling with loneliness and feeling isolated.” This research shows that the loneliness and isolation did not just end with me, but rather, those sentiments were a universal experience accross college students.
This pandemic has destroyed the normal freshman experience, and the university needs to do more than simply move on and make classes in-person next semester. The administration needs to provide the current freshman class with the transition they deserve during their sophomore year.
In a study by College Data, when asked what they were most looking forward to in life after COVID-19, 21% of students said in-person classes, and a whopping 25% said socializing in-person/human connection. The university needs to provide the human connection to sophomores next year that they would have normally provided to the current freshman.
Since the freshman missed out on the two-day, in-person orientation that they would have gotten the summer before their freshman year, the university should provide another two-day, in-person event before the start of their sophomore year to try to make up for what was lost. The university also needs to dedicate more funding to social events for students to build relationships with their peers and try to catch up on the socializing that did not occur because of the pandemic. All in-person classes are a great start, but that is all they are: a start.
Abigail Myers is a freshman majoring in English and psychology from New Orleans, Louisiana.