The Class of 2024 has faced consistent challenges throughout 2020. They finished high school in lockdown, graduated during the pandemic, and began college without many of the quintessential college experiences.
In the plan outlined by President Paula Johnson last summer, primarily first-year students and sophomores would spend fall semester on campus, while juniors and seniors would spend the spring semester on campus. However, there was some overlap between the groups on campus with spots becoming available for upperclassmen in the fall and first years and sophomores in the spring. Many students applied to be on campus due to difficulty in doing classes from home, internet connectivity or other extenuating circumstances.
For many first-year students, starting college at Wellesley on campus was supposed to be a new beginning after the rollercoaster of a senior year they endured. But not everything about their experience lived up to their expectations.
“I really found the campus to be very empty,” Mekdes Hilete ‘24 said.
Hilete wanted to spend her time on-campus getting to know people and making new friends, but found it difficult to keep up social interactions. Kayla Brand ‘24 also faced the same issue.
“I felt pretty isolated last semester so I’m just hoping that part two will be better, especially with all the juniors and seniors I can ask for advice,” Brand said.
Alekhya Bhat ‘24 had some idea of what she was getting into on campus, since she only came for Term 2, and already knew what her room looked like courtesy of her blockmates who were already on campus. She was not, however, prepared for how isolated she would become.
“It was almost like everyone else had like these perfectly sorted out friend groups and relationships with other people,” Bhat said. “I just felt very left behind for a lot of the time.”
Along with arriving later than everyone else, three of Bhat’s seven weeks were spent in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 from close contacts. However, she still felt more comfortable being on campus and around other people, even with the threat of COVID-19.
Like Bhat, Britney Zhang ‘24 also had difficulties with exposure to COVID-19. Zhang spent her fall semester and stayed through Wintersession, due to the difficulty in obtaining a Visa to visit her parents at home in China. Not only did Zhang have to spend Christmas and New Year’s without her family, she also had to quarantine when three of her blockmates tested positive for COVID-19.
“We had three cases in my block, and that was very terrifying because we had no idea how it got in. That was super scary because we never went off campus. The furthest we went is CVS and that’s in the Ville right next to Wellesley,” she said. “It’s really terrifying how this thing spreads. I don’t think we know enough about it. Now that we have all these people coming back, it may spread faster than we anticipate.”
Both Brand and Hilete plan to spend the spring semester on campus primarily because of the freedom in the Wellesley bubble to have in-person interactions. Brand emphasized the importance of simple spontaneous conversations.
“Those conversations that randomly happen when you bump into someone in the hallway are almost impossible to create when you’re on Zoom,” Brand said.
Hilete also reflected on the difficulty for an introvert to go out of their way to interact within COVID restrictions. While she would have attended club meetings and bigger events, she now has to make more of an individual effort to coordinate and schedule socialization.
“Sometimes it helps to just be thrown into a space… like a club meeting or something. There was a lack of that collective interaction,” Hilete said.
After initial struggles, Bhat, Brand and Hilete all resolved to make more of an effort to make the connections they wanted from their college experience. Bhat emphasized the importance of maintaining her mental health.
“I’m going to make more of an effort to really socialize with my block and make sure that I regularly attend my classes, my meals, and most importantly, find productive outlets to make sure that my mental health is okay,” Bhat said.
All students interviewed expressed their excitement and hope for this semester, with the possibility of making new friends and getting to spend more time on campus. Brand expressed hope for the vaccine being distributed by April, as well as considerable relief from her grandmother getting her first dose, as she has already been exposed to COVID-19 and is a high-risk individual.
“We just have to get through this winter,” Brand said. “It’s so good to finally have a light at the end of the tunnel.”