As the first day of fall semester approaches and students move into on-campus residence halls, freshmen have had to modify their expectations for what the semester will now look like. 

LSA freshman Elizabeth Wolfe, who lives in East Quad Residence Hall, said she has tried to make her first several days as normal as possible despite the semester’s clear differences.

“Interactions have been limited but I’ve kind of found ways to just sit with people in the courtyard, be able to eat food with people socially distanced,” Wolfe said. “I guess the way I look at it is it’s not gonna be what freshman year would normally be but it just makes it into a new experience and I’m just trying to make the most of that.”

With reports of many move-in policies going unchecked or abandoned, many freshmen are fearful of a COVID-19 outbreak impacting students and classes shortly after the start of the semester. The first two cases of COVID-19 in residence halls were seen in West Quad this week.

Wolfe said the idea of an outbreak on campus is even more worrying to her due to her preexisting condition. 

“I’m really concerned,” Wolfe said. “For me personally, I have asthma so I’ve been trying to take a lot of precautions.”

Additionally, Wolfe said starting school almost entirely online adds extra difficulty to the first year experience.

“I’m a little anxious about starting with online classes just because it was really difficult to do that at the end of senior year (of high school) on such short notice,” Wolfe said. “But I trust the teachers here to do what’s right. I have a lot of confidence in them right now.”

Kinesiology freshman Lauren Nemeh added that the difficulty with transitioning to online instruction and learning at the end of last year makes her more concerned for the upcoming school year.

“With the second half of my senior year online, in some of my classes it was definitely tough because teachers were really unsure about what was happening too,” Nemeh said. “And it was hard because some of my teachers were super lenient with deadlines and were just like ‘get this in when you can,’ but others were trying to make it as close to the actual in-person (experience) as possible.”

According to Wolfe, the biggest change between student activity during a normal semester and now has been in their social lives rather than in academics.

“In terms of just day-to-day stuff, I think things have been pretty normal, just getting into a college routine and getting ready for classes to start next week,” Wolfe said. “So I think besides the social aspect, so far academically, things have been pretty normal.”

Wolfe said she understands the urge for students to make the semester as normal as possible, but worries that it might interfere with the following of guidelines.

“For the freshman class, we missed out on a lot,” she said. “We missed the end of our senior year (of high school), we missed graduation and our proms and I think that can kind of be taken two separate ways. I think for some people that was more of a motivator to be really responsible during this time and to try to not miss out on anything else. But I think people can also take that experience and want to compensate for that lost time, and they are going to go out and party.”

However, Wolfe, like many other students, did not consider taking a year off before starting school, explaining that the uncertainty of the pandemic made this a difficult choice to make.

“My family asked me about maybe taking a gap year but I really didn’t want to,” Wolfe said. “I just wanted to get right into freshman year. I didn’t want to take a break because I didn’t think it would be productive. It wouldn’t be likely that I could even get a job. I didn’t want to be sitting around for a year just waiting for things to get back (to normal).”

According to Nemeh, students living in the dorms have found ways to meet each other in safe ways by interacting outside and wearing masks.

“There’s definitely a lot more people walking around than I imagined,” Nemeh said. “I saw a bunch of people out there (Hill Neighborhood) playing basketball and tennis. So it looks like people are kind of hanging out that way and trying to meet new people.”

Nemeh said residence hall GroupMe chats have been helpful for students to meet one another.

“In GroupMes for East Quad where I live and my floor, people are always texting, ‘Hey, anyone wanna go to the basketball courts or something?’’ Nemeh said. “So it seems like people are always trying to meet each other, they really just do it outside in a safe environment.”

Incoming LSA freshman Syeda Rizvi noted the difficulties involved with developed connections with students and professors through a computer.

“I don’t really know how to make better relationships with people if I can only see them through a computer,” Rizvi said. “Especially if it’s with my professors or everyone in research right now as well. I met my research professor yesterday and it was a really nice conversation, I just feel like we would have been able to connect better if I was in person with her.”

Rizvi is living in an off-campus apartment with several roommates rather than a dorm, citing housing security and health safety as some of the reasons.

“With COVID happening, I just don't want to risk (living) on campus if classes all go online or campus gets shut down, it’s just much more convenient for me because I don’t have to fluctuate between being worried over what my living plan is going to be,” Rizvi said. “That’s just not something I want to be worried about, especially as a freshman.”

Like many students, Rizvi appreciates the independence associated with a college atmosphere, something that would be sacrificed if students had to attend classes from homes outside of Ann Arbor. “I come to school for the atmosphere,” Rizvi said. “It’s really hard for me to study at home — I have seven people at home and you know, if I have a school meeting there’s always the factor of ‘Am I going to look unprofessional if someone just barges into my room and they don’t know?”

Despite the added stressors of a remote semester, Nemeh says she is still trying to make the most of her first semester on campus.

“I’m just trying to stay hopeful and positive and do my part and as much as I can, wear a mask around campus, social distance,” she said. “I’m still trying to get the college and freshman experience as normal as I can make it.” 

Daily News Editor Ben Rosenfeld can be reached at bbrosenf@umich.edu.

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