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The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.

After two and a half semesters of virtual learning and social distancing, many students said they were excited  to return to a semblance of normalcy yet still nervous about the delta variant as they headed back to the classroom this past week. 

With 91% of this semester’s classes now in person, many students told The Michigan Daily they were relieved to make the transition from Zoom calls to lecture halls. 

Between awkward breakout rooms and all-too-real Zoom fatigue, some students particularly felt the absence of one-on-one connections that once defined in-person instruction, LSA senior Alex Meyer said.

“We were lacking face-to-face contact (during virtual learning),” Meyer said. “It’s harder to build relationships with classmates and professors over Zoom.”

Looking back on the past year and a half, LSA junior Regan Monnett found that the challenges of virtual learning made this week’s return to the classroom all the more memorable.

“The past year makes me appreciate the classroom in person much more,” Monnett said. “It also helps me remember to be patient with everyone because everyone’s adapting as everything goes along.”

As eager as students are to be back in the classroom, concerns over the looming threat of the delta variant still linger among both the student body and faculty. COVID-19 cases have risen in Michigan to nearly double their September 2020 numbers.

“I’m definitely nervous about how things are and have been in terms of COVID,” Monnett said. “Some of the buildings have been very busy so far, which is nerve-wracking.”

Just as flexibility and resilience were key to navigating the last three semesters, the past week has already tested students’ ability to adjust in a period of unfamiliarity, Meyer said.

“Even just my habits of taking notes, it’s harder to get back into it now as opposed to before. It’s a lot harder to pay attention,” Meyer said.

Many students said they felt nervous in anticipation of this week’s in-person classes. This was especially true for LSA junior Brianna Evans, who transferred to the University this past year.

“I was really nervous because I hadn’t learned in person in a while and because I’ve never been here before,” Evans said. “I was anxious about finding classes, but so far, it’s been okay.”

Now that Kinesiology junior Peter Grobel — who transferred to the University his sophomore year — is able to experience in-person classes for the first time, he said he is excited to finally learn what it means to be a Wolverine.

“I hope to get the full Michigan experience, having all clubs and all classes in person,” Grobel said. “It’s just nice to have everything up to full speed, albeit (with) masks and some restrictions.”

Students fill every classroom, residence hall and library, reviving the once-desolate campus he experienced during his first year at the University, Grobel said.

“Campus is definitely much more lively compared to last year when it was completely empty,” Grobel said. “There would be two people at the bus stop, and now you see lines of freshmen going and going. Campus is alive again.”

This spirited atmosphere has welcomed many new faces to campus. Countless times over the past week, Art & Design freshman Mari Kamidoi said they witnessed campus-wide kindness firsthand.

“My first impression of Michigan was that everyone’s really friendly,” Kamidoi said. “I haven’t met a single unfriendly person.”

Uncertainty remains a defining theme of the 2021 school year, with many students unsure of what the fall semester will ultimately look like. While grateful for in-person instruction, Meyer anticipates a return to online learning in the coming months.

“Most of my labs are using a mixed format now with a whole section built around virtual learning,” Meyer said. “I’m sort of expecting that we can see a return to virtual classroom classes come mid-semester, so I’m keeping my expectations low.”

Hundreds of University faculty and Graduate Student Instructors have signed a petition calling for greater COVID-19 planning and safety precautions, citing the rising threat of the delta variant and its potential to infect vaccinated people. In an email to faculty Thursday — which some faculty said they found insufficient — University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins said classrooms are the “safest place” to be this semester in response to the faculty and GSI’s demands for more detailed COVID-19 guidelines. 

For the time being, however, students are making the most of in-person instruction as they continue to tackle school in the age of COVID-19.

“This next semester, I plan to focus on building in-person relationships with people here at Michigan after transferring,” Grobel said. “All in all, I’m really just excited to see what being at Michigan’s all about.”

Daily Staff Reporter Evan DeLorenzo can be reached at evandelo@umich.edu.