Student Voices: Reflections on returning to college while navigating pandemic

When I pictured my senior year at Syracuse University, I imagined checking off bucket list items with friends, enjoying and reminiscing on our year of “lasts.”

I thought of our last football tailgates, last concerts on campus and last trips to the apple-picking farm, and also thought of the firsts of many senior traditions that come with finally being 21. I had no idea that I’d already experienced the last of these events – or that I wouldn’t be able to experience them entirely.

But I think of the parts of Syracuse I will still get to experience when I return this month: sitting in the sun on the quad, reuniting with friends I haven’t seen in over a year and attending classes in person.

I can’t lie; I’m so excited. There’s only so many times I can take walks in my Los Altos-Mountain View neighborhood (sorry, Mom and Julia).

Syracuse made the decision to return to campus this fall with a hybrid model of in-person and online classes. Three of my classes will be in person, because they have fewer than 20 people in them, and two will be entirely online. We are required to wear masks on campus and seats have been removed from lecture halls and classrooms to allow for social distancing. There is even a certain way we’re required to enter and leave classrooms by filling seats in the front and farthest from the door first, so we don’t cross over each other.

Due to New York’s travel advisory, I – along with thousands of other students from 34 hot-spot states and Puerto Rico – am required to quarantine for 14 days in the state before I’m allowed on campus. I was tested before I traveled to New York, I will be tested within 10 days before I return to campus, I will be tested when I arrive on campus, I will be tested two weeks later and I will be subjected to random or as-needed testing throughout the semester. I will not be granted card access into any campus buildings – a new initiative for the year – until my test comes back negative.

I’m not naive to the realities of this virus. I’ve read the articles. I know my age group has been careless in a time we should be anything but. I know we account for a disturbing number of the positive cases and spread of COVID-19 across the country. I’ve seen the lack of social distancing in my own social media feed. The U.S. is so far from OK right now.

Will guidelines work?

Part of me wonders if three weeks into school, we’ll all be sent home. One fraternity was already suspended in late July for violating social-distancing guidelines after the university learned of an alleged gathering of 20-30 people in April, when both the university and chapter house were closed. Will this selfish need to drink beer in a cramped basement ruin it for the rest of us who are following the public health guidelines?

If we reach 100 cases on campus, we will shelter in place for one to four weeks. On a campus with approximately 22,000 students, 100 cases are nothing. There’s an evacuation plan that entails leaving campus within 24-72 hours, depending on how far away you live, if we surpass this.

I don’t doubt Syracuse has taken precautions and made plans to keep the students safe. I’ll spare you every policy we’ve been emailed in weekly updates. Students know we could face suspension or expulsion if we violate the guidelines.

If there’s an outbreak and we’re sent home, it’ll be because of students’ recklessness.

But I’m cautiously optimistic about the semester. If students want to stay until Thanksgiving, we know what we can do to achieve it: wear masks, social distance and obsessively wash our hands and sanitize our desks.

Am I nervous about contracting the virus? Absolutely. I know I’m not immune to it. I’m nervous about spreading it in a city that has a high poverty rate and a county that has done a lot to flatten the curve.

I know this year won’t mean any of the fun, social aspects of my typical college experience so far. However, I’m OK with giving that up if it means I can take my final major courses in person and get the hands-on experience that I’m paying way too much money for. I’m really excited just to see my friends, and I’m OK doing that in a setting that requires sitting outside in masks.

Hopefully my classmates keep all this in mind. And no offense Los Altos, but hopefully I don’t see you until my plane lands Nov. 25.

Jenna Webster is a Town Crier intern and Mountain View High School graduate.

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