Over the past few months, students at the University have witnessed Grounds come alive in a semester comparable to pre-pandemic years, due to the removal of many COVID-19 restrictions starting last spring. University operations, club meetings and many more hallmarks of undergraduate life have resumed in-person with full force, providing students opportunities to connect across Grounds and enrich their lives outside of the classroom.
The novelty of a student’s first semester in college is always palpable each August. For Paloma Sanchez, international student from Peru and first-year College student , acclimating to an American university this semester has introduced a host of exciting and challenging experiences. She’s begun to find her niche at the University by seeking out fellow students who share related experiences and interests.
“I thought it was going to be a much harder transition,” Sanchez said. “But I actually met a lot of Latinos here. They all live in one building, so I was able to meet a lot of people that have similar cultures as me and speak the same language.”
While enjoying the community she shares with other Spanish speakers on Grounds, Sanchez also quickly came to love the other aspects of a traditional college experience in the United States — cherishing the school spirit, dorm life and her newfound independence at the University.
“I love it, it's a typical U.S. college experience,” Sanchez said. “For example, in Peru there are no football matches — well, American football. So going [to the games], that was so fun … Being able to live in dorms, that's something that doesn't happen there.”
Sanchez also utilized the wide variety of clubs and organizations at the University to meet new people and get involved with the community. She participates in the nonprofit chapter of Operation Smile as recruitment chair, and is a member of the student group Towards a Better Latin America, which allows her to be with other Latin American students and widen her social network.
For Mary Hinton, a third-year transfer student to the College, it is also her first semester on Grounds. Like many other transfer students across Grounds, she’s been adjusting to the University, trying to meet new people and make friends in her classes or clubs.
Hinton’s been able to establish that sense of community she was looking for through her extracurricular involvements — she volunteers with the VISAS program as a language consultant, and participates in FLUX Poetry and Spoken Word.
Her favorite part about being involved with FLUX is the welcoming community they foster at their open-mic nights each week, and how it is a safe space for everyone to join without anyone ever feeling excluded.
“My most memorable moment was when I got up to read [my poetry] for the first time,” Hinton said, “Because I had never done anything like that before, it was just really empowering. This year, I've been trying to put myself out there more. And I think doing that made me feel like I'm more capable of doing other things and getting more involved.”
Balancing the endless priorities of a college student — classes, extracurriculars, career exploration, a social life and perhaps a part-time job — can be taxing. For fourth-year University students, many are coming to terms with the fact that their four years on Grounds are ending. Fourth-year College student Andi Sink has realized that it is best to prioritize their interests in order to ensure their remaining time at the University is spent meaningfully.
“So it’s just trying to think about things that you're going to get the most out of, even if it's not for jobs,” Sink said. “[I’m] trying to prioritize classes that are going to be useful to me that aren't just like throwaway classes, but ones that I'm actually interested in.”
Particularly notable moments for Sink this semester were when they filmed a protest against Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Model Policies in Richmond for their documentary capstone project in the Media Studies major, when they performed in Voyeuristic Intention’s Rocky Horror show at the Paramount and when they assumed the editorship of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center’s magazine “IRIS.”
“Being the editor, it's been a really big learning experience,” Sink said. “So that's been really, really rewarding. It's great to be able to help writers grow which sounds super cheesy, but, but it's true. I feel like ‘IRIS’ is a really unique publication on Grounds because it's focused on helping the writers get where they want to be.”
However, the most vivid memory Sink has of the fall semester is the Nov. 13 shooting, when second-year student Devin Chandler, third-year student Lavel Davis and fourth-year student D'Sean Perry were fatally shot. While a horrific event and senseless act of violence, Sink said the way students, faculty and staff came together in its aftermath was a resounding reminder of the University community’s resilience and strength in the face of difficulty.
Second-year College student Ben Willoughby noted that he will also remember the subsequent show of support by the community, bringing students closer together.
“I feel like a lot of the time I spend here, everyone is going their own way and sometimes it's hard to feel that community,” Willoughby said. “Seeing people come together was impactful. [I didn’t] really realize how small this school really is, but hearing other people’s experiences was a good reminder that we’re all in this together.”