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First years develop close relationships but recall limited opportunities over fall semester

Despite restrictive public health guidelines, the Class of 2024 maintains a positive attitude

<p>This fall, first-year students&nbsp;were able to choose to either move into an on-Grounds residence hall or take classes from home.</p>

This fall, first-year students were able to choose to either move into an on-Grounds residence hall or take classes from home.

Despite increased COVID-19 restrictions and strict quarantine policies, first-year students remain undeniably optimistic about their first semester at the University. The Class of 2024 has adapted to these challenges in just three months and become even closer in the process. 

First-year students moved into residence halls two weeks after the start of classes in search of the “college experience.” Though the fall semester officially began Aug. 25, first-year students and other on-Grounds residents completed the first two weeks of classes from home. Midway through the semester, first-years who decided to live on Grounds this fall reported being happy with their decision, despite having to find unconventional ways of making friends and adjusting to collegiate life.

According to the COVID-19 Addendum to the Undergraduate Terms & Conditions of Housing, the University retained the right to terminate housing contracts and to require residents to leave University housing due to extenuating circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this semester. First-year students were able to choose to either move into an on-Grounds residence hall or take classes from home.

For some students, these housing policies were reason enough to remain at home. 

First-year College student Alice Cormier chose to stay home this semester, citing the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 as the primary reason for her decision.

“I would have had to live in a dorm, and they kept pushing the date back,” Cormier said. “I started to get worried that maybe people would get sent home, so I didn't necessarily want to spend like housing money to live there.”

Although Cormier chose to take classes from home this semester, she plans to move to Grounds in the spring because she feels more confident in the University’s ability to keep students on Grounds given its relative success this fall. Cormier described learning from home as the most difficult part of her first term.

“It’s kind of like the time in your life where you are ready to leave your hometown, so it kinda feels like I'm dragging my feet a little,” Cormier said. “But it's a pandemic, so I guess everyone's going through this weird … semester in different ways.”

First years on Grounds faced a different set of challenges, including stringent testing procedures. Students who live on Grounds are tested every nine days, while students who live off Grounds may be randomly selected for testing. The University also continues to monitor wastewater from all residence halls to detect possible COVID-19 infections.

After detecting potential COVID-19 infections in five residence halls, the University instituted a mandatory testing and screening program for students living on Grounds and in the Charlottesville area. 

On-Grounds students who test positive, experience COVID-19 symptoms or who have been exposed to the virus are required to relocate temporarily to University dorms, apartments or local hotels designated as isolation and quarantine rooms. 

First-year College student Nishita Ghanate described her 14-day quarantine as the most difficult part of her first semester.

“Having to quarantine in the hotel for two weeks … that was rough because it [felt] kind of like an abrupt stop in everything that had been happening,” Ghanate said.

In addition to quarantine and isolation policies, residents living on Grounds are required to comply with a variety of other requirements, including social distancing, handwashing guidelines, face coverings, personal cleaning and gathering size limits.

Housing and Residence Life instituted its own proactive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as increased cleaning and regulation of common spaces in residence halls. A third rule limits visitors and guests, allowing only residents and staff to access their respective residence hall and punishing students who bring guests.

First-year College student Lucy Funk said that she has maintained a positive attitude despite the circumstances created by the pandemic. She said that some of the University’s restrictions actually foster a sense of closeness among first-year students.

“Most people in college meet a lot of people and don’t know them very well,” Funk said. “I’ve met less people, but the people I’ve met I’ve known really well.”

While Funk noted the unique companionship among first-year students, Ghanate said that the dorm restrictions often made it more difficult for first years to meet each other this semester.

“Honestly, I think that the [HRL] restriction about going to other dorms should be lifted,” Ghanate said. “Because of that, it’s been really hard to make friends with people outside of our dorm or … interact with people in our classes.”

Funk expressed a similar desire to meet upperclassmen.

“The only opportunities I have to meet people are on Grounds, and a lot of the upperclassmen aren’t on Grounds,” Funk said. “It would be cool if there was a way for us to get connected with them since they would probably have [advice].”

Along with the aforementioned COVID-19 restrictions, the University offered a range of course instruction modes this semester. Many professors chose to teach synchronous or asynchronous online classes while others used a hybrid model of in-person and online classes. The University also offered 30 percent of classes in an in-person format.

First-year College student Nelson Lamkin said that his in-person philosophy class was one of the primary reasons he decided to come to Grounds this semester.

“[Even] with the pandemic, I still got to have that kind of academic experience,” Lamkin said. “That was really cool for me.”

Cormier’s experience was more unusual, compared to a normal first semester at the University. Because she decided to stay home, she said the semester felt like a continuation of high school rather than a transition to college.

“It was definitely weird because I feel like there was no concrete end to high school,” Cormier said. 

Lamkin also noted that the lack of events on-Grounds made his transition to college more difficult — however, he remained upbeat about future semesters at the University.

“That's probably been the hardest part, just kind of like knowing what it could be like,” Lamkin said. “Whenever everything opens back up, I think that our class especially will appreciate … everything that we’ve missed out on that much more.”