The Office of Undergraduate Admission extended offers to a record-low 19 percent of applicants this year. That’s not the only thing unique about this incoming class. The Class of 2026 stands to be the first class in over two years that will likely get to enjoy a relatively COVID-19-free University experience, as cases drop and lowered restrictions continue. Current guidelines suggest they won’t have to deal with any of the negative and isolating effects of the pandemic during their college careers. Their awkward ice breakers won’t be made worse by unstable connections on Zoom. They’ll also get to attend in-person First Year Orientation — something the Classes of 2024 and 2025 did not get to do.
Incoming students are likely to have had differing experiences with COVID-19 and mitigation policies. Schools across the state and the nation had a variety of different masking and virtual learning policies, before Governor Glenn Youngkin made mask-wearing optional in all Virginia school districts. In spite of these differences, we as a University community must work together to ensure that the Class of 2026 has the most normal experience possible. As we all begin to heal from the disruption brought on by the pandemic, it is imperative that the Class of 2026 be quickly engulfed into the community that attracts so many to the University. We can all look forward to a more normal fall, but the Class of 2026 stands the chance to not face the same disruptions that other classes dealt with.
The first thing that the Class of 2026 has experienced in this less restrictive pandemic era — although COVID-19 still proves to be a deadly threat — is in-person Days on the Lawn. This is in stark contrast to the virtual Days on the Lawn given to the Classes of 2024 and 2025. This class of prospective students will attend in-person resource fairs, student panels and get to imagine their next four years as they explore Grounds on student-led tours. As a transfer student, I never got the chance to experience Days on the Lawn. It’s a vital experience that gives you a taste of the academic and student life at the University before you decide where to spend your undergraduate years. It helps make the decision easier. Missing such an important opportunity is not something I wish on any other class. Building a community early in college is extremely important. Students who feel a sense of belonging at their institution are more likely to graduate than those who do not, according to a plethora of research studies. Making students feel like they are a part of the community helps in the long run. If you see a prospective first-year at DOTL, say hello, ask them if they have any questions or if they need any advice. Give them that face-to-face welcoming that they can expect when they become a part of the University.
To feel a part of the community, there are many things we could do to help the Class of 2026. For one, CIOs should bring back events they weren’t doing because of COVID-19. While this has already begun to happen, with Queer Student Union hosting Drag Bingo and the Organization of African Students’ hosting Africa Day in-person, it is imperative that this continues to ramp up in the fall. With the University lifting most mandates and cases dropping dramatically, CIOs should feel comfortable functioning and planning as they did before the pandemic. U.Va has hundreds of CIOs. There is quite literally something for everybody at the University. All CIOs, from cultural organizations to pre-professional fraternities, should attempt to make their presence known on Grounds next fall and increase recruitment. It’s important that all CIOs engage in bigger recruitment efforts so every member of the Class of 2026 finds something they like, whether it be a cultural dance crew or a baseball trading club. By increasing recruitment, most CIOs will undoubtedly have an increase in members and new students will have more opportunity to find their home at the University. By flyering, advertising and tabling, the Class of 2026 will feel encouraged to join our CIOs and find a home within them. Of course, behaviors we learned to keep our community safe, like masking if sick and quarantining if tested positive, should remain in place to protect ourselves and our peers.
While the rest of us might be jealous of all the things the Class of 2026 will get to experience that we did not, their bright future offers a glimpse of hope for the rest of us. If we want to return to normalcy and get back the inclusive community atmosphere we knew before the pandemic, we must focus on helping the Class of 2026 acclimate quickly. If we create a welcoming environment for them, we will be rewarded with a more tight-knit community that we can also enjoy. We can’t get these two years back, but we can enjoy the years to come, just like the Class of 2026 will.
Riley Lorgus is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.