The Gustavian Weekly

First-year class adjusts to COVID on The Hill - The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily VanGorder - Staff Writer | September 18, 2020 | Variety

Gustavus’s first-year class has had a lot to adjust to, from an abrupt end to their senior year to starting college while dealing with ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collegiate Fellows (CFs) in first-year dorms have been noticing a change in the students they lead.
“[There is] a lot more stress and anxiety than in previous years…there’s a heightened degree to it,” Senior CF Catherine Lim said.
“Being in [Pittman] where there’s almost a full building of people also doesn’t help any of that stress or anxiety,” Lim said.
Other CFs have echoed this sentiment.
“[The beginning of the year] has been weird… everyone seems to be in really good spirits considering what’s going on. I asked [one of my residents] how she was feeling about things and she just said she felt kind of special, because [they’re] the first group of people who’s ever going to experience college like this,” Sophomore CF Logann Harkness said.

“[They’re] the first group of people who’s ever going to experience college like this.”
-Sophomore Logan Harkness

On Friday Sep. 18, Sohre and Pittman CFs are hosting a combined in-person event. For the event, they will be handing out pairs of gloves to students and groups of students will come in organized groups to participate in activities. Between the two groups, everything will be sanitized.
“I won’t lie, I’m slightly nervous to see how it goes. We’re trying to get the best of both worlds, but it’s weird to juggle everything with a pandemic,” Lim said.
Lim also spoke to how first-year orientation went this year. According to Lim, Andrea Junso, Director of Campus Activities, and the Gustie Greeters put in a lot of time and effort to ensure everyone was safe.
“I appreciate all their help because that makes our job as CFs a lot less stressful,” Lim said.
Orientation planning this year was much different than it has been in the past. In mid-July, Junso met with Senior Director of Institutional Events, Barb Larson Taylor, to begin planning.
“[Taylor] came up with the idea for an orientation that was disseminated into orientation groups… we quite literally had exactly the number of classrooms that were capable of facilitating 44 orientation groups with 16 or less people,” Junso said.
Due to COVID, certain events like tulip planting, the President’s Banquet, the square dance and Dive dances were cut from the schedule or rearranged into virtual or smaller in-person events, which Junso said was the biggest disappointment.
Due to the online format of many orientation activities, keeping students engaged was difficult. To combat this, orientation groups used an app called GooseChase to facilitate scavenger hunts around campus in between scheduled events.

“My [first-years] still met people, and they have friends, so I think that’s really good.”
-Sophomore Logann Harkness

In order to meet the increased demand for flexibility, an app called Guidebook was used to provide a digital orientation schedule that could be updated at a moment’s notice. Guidebook will continue to be used for orientations in the future as it provides a more sustainable model for students.
Despite best efforts, there were a few issues once orientation began. On Sunday, August 30, there was some dinnertime congestion, with a line going from the dining room to the chapel.
“[The line] was moving very quickly, [and] I have to be honest, they weren’t doing a good job of distancing at that point, but that was really the biggest hiccup we had,” Junso said.
Due to the changes, CFs were less involved in orientation this year.
“It was kind of hard to balance out what our roles were with the Greeters and the first-years,” Sophomore CF Yesenia Sanchez said.
Another difficulty was in sharing information.
“A lot of my [residents] had never been on the Gustavus website, and didn’t know how to print… it was little things like that where they didn’t get as much information as they normally would,” Senior CF Alexis Fleming said.
Despite the challenges, Junso feels the Greeters this year have been great role models for the ROAR (respect others, act responsibly) program.
“I think they exceeded my expectations with their attitude… they were just really grateful to get here and create an engaging environment for the first-year students,” Junso said.
This year’s orientation changes and challenges provided information that may be used in planning future first-year orientations. While a busy orientation schedule sets the tone for college life, Junso feels it may need more flexibility and grace in the future.
“We want it structured so [students] have something to do, but then it stresses them out. So if we can loosen up the schedule a little bit so they’re not as stressed, maybe they won’t be as stressed going into the first couple weeks of school as well,” Junso said.
Harkness hopes things will get easier for the first-years once more upperclassmen arrive on campus.
“I’m hoping that…the first-years can learn by watching other people instead of just…each other. I think it’ll be a lot easier for them to understand the rules,” Harkness said.
Overall, Fleming feels that the first-years have been doing well with following COVID rules.
“[They have been] very open to listening to us… While we’ve had to give gentle reminders that their normal experiences are going to change, they’re still trying to make the most out of their first year at college and experience as much as they can,” Fleming said. “Whether “[first years] remember all those rules all the time is a different story, but a lot of people… want to be here,” Fleming said.
“[Most students on campus have been] following along with [COVID] policy without having to be reminded, but there are a handful of students and people I see daily that I have to remind to put their masks on, to socially distance, to wash their hands. It’s really dependent on all of us whether we get to stay here or if we get sent home, and I really worry about that handful that I have to keep reminding,” Sanchez said.
“There’s always going to be people who are just going to do whatever they want to do, and that’s been really hard because… I want to be here, I want to be safe, I want my friends to be here, I want them to stay,” Harkness said.
“[The vast majority of students on campus] have done a great job wearing masks…that’s probably where we’re succeeding the most,” Sophomore CF Zoe Zarth said.
However, Zarth noted that there are still issues, especially with social distancing.
“We give a lot of reminders to spread out, which is a little bit frustrating,” Zarth said. “I think we could do better with [the sanitization kits]… we’ve given a lot of reminders just to wipe down before and after you use a space, but I don’t see that happen very often,” Zarth said.
Many CFs have concerns about the decreased socialization first-years are experiencing during this unusual time.
“Many new students feel like they can’t really meet anyone, it’s very isolating and restrictive,” Lim said. “There are some people who are very concerned about COVID, and there are some who don’t think COVID is a thing. It’s hard to try to find a balance between meeting the needs of all students while keeping everyone safe,” Lim said.

“Many new students feel like they can’t really meet anyone, it’s very isolating and restrictive.”
-Senior Catherine Lim

“Their senior year was kind of blown up and now their first year is similar, but I think that the sooner we actually take action and listen to all of our policies, their year [will be] more normal, and I want that to happen for them…. we all really want to stay on campus. I think we just need to stress showing that more in our actions,” Sanchez said.

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