First-years face unique challenges adjusting to college during a pandemic

Restrictions are designed to limit students’ close contacts, making it difficult for first-years to meet classmates and upperclassmen


As first-years prepared for college this year, they were sure to pack their toothbrush, hairbrush, and unexpectedly, their facemasks. And many have had to make another packing list this semester — to prepare for a two-week stay in on-campus quarantine or isolation housing.

In a year defined by a global pandemic, first-years did not know what to expect when transitioning onto campus.

After nearly eight weeks on campus, not everyone shares the same sentiments about how COVID-19 has defined their first semester.

“I really didn’t know what to expect, but I think we are in the best situation out of any college right now. I’m just happy to be on campus and have some in-person classes” said Anna Bosking, ‘24.

Unlike schools such as University of North Carolina and University of Notre Dame, Washington and Lee University has been able to operate in-person for at least the first eight weeks of the fall term.

But the semester has been uniquely difficult for first-year students who have struggled to meet classmates and upperclassmen under the constraints of the COVID-19 guidelines and the watchful eye of residential life staff and public safety officers.

Many students living on campus are taking mainly virtual classes. Restrictions in the dining hall, the library, the fitness center, on student organizations and on social gatherings have meant that many first-years spend most of their time in their dorm room and haven’t been able to meet other students as easily as they normally would.

Many first-years have already spent a two-week stint in quarantine or isolation.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they must report their close contacts for the last two days and isolate for ten days in Davis Hall from the day they began showing symptoms. Their close contacts must quarantine for two weeks, either in Baker Hall or at the Econolodge in Lexington.

In quarantine or isolation, students attend even their in-person classes virtually, with their faces projected on a smartboard in front of the class.

Many students who tested positive for COVID-19 or were a close contact opted to quarantine or isolate at home rather than on cam- pus in Baker Hall, pushing them off campus for two weeks.

“One day I was going downstairs to grab my food and I thought someone had thrown up because it smelled so vile. Baker was comparable to prison,” said Audrey Jameson, ‘24, who quarantined in Baker for two weeks after an outbreak on campus.

Jameson was again a close-contact to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, so she decided to quarantine at home after a negative experience in Baker.

While a few first-years said their experience on campus has been as positive as possible, many first-years have expressed exasperation with their current living situations.

“Most of my classes are online, and it can be really tiring to be on Zoom all day in my dorm room,” said a first-year student who is worried for her mental health. “It’s much harder to stay focused in online class and even harder to make friends.”

For the most part, students only interact with the individuals with whom they share a hall. First-years, as a result, spend most of their time in their dorms.

But some students have taken advantage of the local trails and mountains, taking weekend trips to go hiking or camping.

“When the D-Hall dining room was open, my friends and I would spend a lot of our time there. It was just a nice place to socialize with eight or so friends,” said Megan Dufault, ‘24.

First-years were sad to see the dining hall close down and for group gatherings be limited to six individuals. However, administration has recently rolled back these restrictions, re-opening indoor dining options as well as expanding indoor group gatherings to ten individuals. First-years have already, as their older peers have done, began eating indoors with groups once again.

While no first-year knows what the rest of the semester or the academic year will look like, they’re excited to see Washington and Lee when it’s not defined by COVID-19.

“At this point, I am just trying to make the best of the semester. I hope we are able to find some sense of normalcy soon” said Ian Kinney, ‘24.