COVID-19 update: students muse on this semester and the next

About 60% of students said they’ll return to campus. But what are the other 40% doing?

Jin Ni

Students face the spookiest time of year under strange circumstances: a pandemic, course registration, impending finals and the thought of being home for over two months.

A survey conducted by this Phi reporter via Google Forms found that 60% of students said they would come back to campus and take classes, much like this semester.

But 20% said they would rather take classes virtually from home, and 9% said they would be taking the semester off.

Many students cited declining mental health, stringent regulations, and unfair conduct procedures.

“I would rather be taking my classes at home if they’re just going to be all-virtual anyway,” said an anonymous first-year student. “I feel like we’ve been spending our entire semester here on lock-down, coming in and out of quarantine, or watching friends come in and out of quarantine. It’s depressing.”

For students who will be coming back to campus next semester, many of the same worries will carry over. And the possibility of cooler weather and seasonal affective disorder, students said they are even more concerned.

“I think that if things don’t change come winter [term], we could be dealing with some serious mental health problems,” said Emma Thai ‘22. “ I know that I personally tend to get down when the weather isn’t as good and I think it would be so much worse if I can’t leave my house to see people.”

Outdoor activities will also be more limited given the weather in Lexington for much of Winter Term.

Another 11% of students, mostly sophomores and juniors, are considering going abroad.

“I’ve always planned and wanted to go abroad, but I didn’t think it would be a possibility after COVID,” Lillian Patrick, ‘22, said. “But I was very excited when I talked to Cindy Irby and she told me that programs are actually running right now, so as long as cases don’t spike, we should be able to go next semester.”

And Patrick is not the only one to feel that way.

“I’ve always wanted to go [abroad] but I didn’t want to miss out on the campus experience. Now that there is no campus to experience, there’s nothing stopping me from going,” said Judy Park, ‘22.

Sara Amil ‘22 agreed.

“All of my classes next semester will be virtual, so there’s no benefit to me staying on campus,” Amil said.

Patrick also said she is excited about going, especially since many of her friends and classmates are also planning on going abroad.

“I think after a semester that definitely was not what I anticipated, this will be a good break from campus. Even if there are more restrictions than expected abroad, I still think that I will be able to appreciate the city and the culture,” said Patrick.

Professor Toni Locy, a member of the COVID-19 Committee, cautioned students to still be careful and plan for the worse.

“It is normally a very cool experience, and hopefully you’ll be able to still immerse yourself in the culture, but things are not better [in Europe],” Locy said regarding coronavirus abroad. “Travel is dangerous, and you do not want to be stuck there in case of a lockdown.”

On campus, students have been enjoying loosened restrictions since Oct. 12 when the environmental level changed from high-yellow to mid-yellow.

But new cases were reported Oct. 23 that could not be traced to any previous clusters, prompting the environmental level to move back to high-yellow. As of Oct. 31, W&L has 120 positive results since August and 23 within the last seven days.

Restrictions have not changed, but administrators are cautioning students to remain vigilant and be smart about their close contacts.

In an Oct. 28 email to undergraduate stu- dents, the COVID-19 committee cautioned students about weekend activities.

“Plan your weekend and Halloween activities in ways that comply with the current COVID-19 restrictions,” the email said. “Wearing face coverings, physical distancing, limiting your close contacts, and keeping gatherings within the current size limits will go a long way toward helping us slow the spread of the virus on our campus!”

But COVID-19 and Halloween weekend aren’t the only things students, faculty and administrators are worried about.

The winter term course registration was released, three weeks before the end of the semester.

“Usually we know the course catalog for the next term three to four weeks into the se- mester,” Bob Strong, the interim head of the Politics department said. “But the pandemic has affected every part of our lives, and course scheduling is no different.”

Despite the challenges and uncertainty of a semester that has been like no other, many W&L students have found their friends and their home here.

“It’ll be good to be home, but it’s going to be a long two months,” Chloe Olsen, ‘23, said.

For those who will be returning in-person winter term, the university has started rolling out phased arrival dates and testing information.

“We are excited about welcoming students back to campus for winter term. Many great activities and events are already in the works for the term and we look forward to sharing them with you in the new year,” said Chris Reid, director of residence life, in an email to undergraduates Oct. 30. “We are proud of you for taking care of each other during the fall term. The individual and collective resolve exhibited by students, faculty, staff has been most impressive.”