When COVID-19 first hit the US in early 2020, colleges and universities across the nation were forced to close, and with their closing came isolation between students. Even when some universities reopened their doors for fall 2020, classes, social groups and athletics weren’t the same. With Zoom and capacity limits dominating university life, it was hard for students and faculty to feel connected to each other and to the school as a whole.
The largest campus-wide social gathering at any university right now is attending football games and tailgating before and after some games. At Ole Miss in particular, football and the Grove are considered a spiritual experience for many and are essential to the “Ole Miss experience.” Considering that last football season was heavily restricted and tailgating in the Grove was prohibited, this is the first time many on campus will truly experience the UM football season and all it has to offer. It may seem silly to consider something like football games to be important in unifying the campus, but it’s an experience that most students enjoy and actively seek out.
Many researchers found that quarantine negatively impacted mental health across the nation, largely due to the isolation from others. Being social allows people to feel connected to the world around them, which is a hard-wired human need. This means that a return to social normalcy is incredibly important to mental health, especially since young people are the most likely to experience symptoms of depression.
Allowing students and faculty alike to tailgate and fill the stadium as in years past provides the much-needed socialization more than anywhere else on campus or in the Oxford community. In-person classes, of course, also aid in the return to a normal campus experience, but with the university-wide mask mandate in place, classes still don’t feel the same as in the pre-COVID-19 world. The slow return to being fully maskless and in-person at all events is understandable, as COVID-19 cases are still very present in Mississippi, but whatever can be done safely to allow social interaction between students is necessary to repair the gaping social hole in the student body.
Ole Miss has always been a place where football and other sports are highly celebrated, and tailgating has been a way of life in Oxford for decades. Anyone who was at the Arkansas game on Saturday can attest to the love and pride this university has for its team. Ensuring that students are able to be a part of this tradition is essential to getting back to the campus life we all know and love. Cheering on your team and celebrating its victory is a bonding experience that Ole Miss does better than anyone, and it is this bonding that will continue to unite our campus in the coming months.
Briley Rakow is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Lemont, IL.