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In search of the ‘college experience’: First-year students discuss move into dorms

Several first-years said they feel confident that the University’s COVID-19 policies will help prevent outbreaks

Many first-years, mostly masked, flocked outdoors after reaching Grounds.
Many first-years, mostly masked, flocked outdoors after reaching Grounds.

Thousands of first-year students moved into on-Grounds dormitories Sept. 3 through Sept. 6, several of whom said they came in search of one thing — the “college experience.” Or, whatever sort of college experience they could untangle from a university in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

First-year College students Erin Ward and Leah Boone sat outside Kent House on Sunday afternoon after moving into their dorm rooms. Ward said she doesn’t mind taking her classes through Zoom — she’s just glad to be learning online in a different environment and with a greater degree of independence. 

“[My parents] wanted me to come just so that I can have the college experience — even if it’s not completely normal,” Ward said. 

While nearby colleges like James Madison University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have failed in their efforts to evade outbreaks, many first-year students like Ward and Boone feel confident that U.Va. — which has 257 cases as of Wednesday — can avoid a similar fate. 

Boone decided to return to Grounds after growing tired of taking her online high school classes from home. A discussion with her parents about whether the University’s COVID-19 policies were sufficient to prevent school-wide spread of the virus solidified her decision. 

“[My parents] decided that the policies were probably good enough, that [the University] was trying hard enough to where I didn’t think that we were going to have a massive outbreak,” Boone said.

Still, packed dining halls and bustling Corner restaurants over the move-in weekend leave some upperclassmen and community members fearful of the skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers that forced JMU and UNC back online. 

Facing suspension for willfully shirking the University’s COVID-19 rules — which include wearing a mask while outside one’s residence, staying six-feet from others and gathering in groups fewer than 15 — many first-years, mostly masked, flocked outdoors after reaching Grounds. Some students played cornhole and SpikeBall on Observatory Hill, while others parked at picnic tables to chat with friends or complete coursework. 

As with any other year, upperclassmen stationed around O’Hill attempted to entice new students into joining their CIOs, and chalk-plastered sidewalks advertised clubs and other activities. 

The weekend’s flurry of activity took place two weeks later than normal, as the University delayed on-Grounds move-in from before Aug. 25 to the weekend of Sept. 4 in the face of climbing local and national cases of COVID-19. As a result, students were forced to assemble their new on-Grounds living spaces while juggling ongoing coursework. 

First-year College student Quinton Monroe pored over a book outside Hancock on Sunday afternoon — far from where most students were gathered — to catch up on the coursework he missed while moving in with classes already two weeks underway.

Monroe was initially wary of living on-Grounds amid the pandemic but has grown more confident since moving in. The main driver behind his decision to come to Grounds, he said, was improved WiFi capabilities. 

“Mainly I don’t have the WiFi or power stability at home, so I thought it’d be better for me to come here,” Monroe said. 

Moving in amid classes posed some logistical challenges for first-year College student Jake Robey, too. Robey counts himself lucky because he only lives 20 minutes from the University, which meant he could attend his 2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. class before his 4:00 p.m. move-in time. 

Even so, he missed a discussion section that occurred during his move-in slot. 

“Apparently for that class you can only miss one of those for any reason, and after that it affects your grade,” Robey said. “So I already used that up in the first day on campus.”

Now fully moved into his room in Lile-Maupin dormitory, Robey is approaching his first semester at the University with caution and measured excitement. 

“I’m not familiar with the student population here, so who knows if all of them can be trusted to follow the guidelines,” Robey said. “We’ll see what happens.”

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