On Aug. 27, 2021, Wellesley College President Paula Johnson released a statement outlining health and safety precautions that amended the College’s previous guidelines regarding campus life during the pandemic. While the initial rules allowed students to go maskless in dorm common areas and travel out of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, concerns over the more contagious Delta variant have raised alarms. As a result, the health and safety guidelines were updated to reflect the current course of the pandemic, even as the vaccination rate of on-campus students hovers near 100%. The new restrictions included a return to masking in dorm common spaces, an in-state travel restriction and a temporary ban on allowing guests inside of buildings.
In the wake of the ever-changing pandemic, students and faculty alike are beginning to get a better idea of what this year could look like given current safety guidelines. Some students, such as Karishma Gottfried ’23, the house president of Bates, believe that this year will not only give students more social opportunities, despite the current restrictions in place, but also a chance to take more responsibility for their actions and wellbeing.
“I want to be making the decisions that are safest for my community,” Gottfried said. “I think about it within that context — what actions am I taking that are keeping my community safe? And what actions am I taking that are putting my community at risk?”
While there are fewer restrictions in place this year than last, some students are still concerned about how the current rules will shape yet another year of uncertainty at Wellesley. Vin Chang ’24 worries that despite the current restrictions, some students will still choose to party off-campus, putting the Wellesley community at risk.
“People are still going to party in Boston, despite the restrictions,” Chang said. “People still hung out in other people’s rooms last year. In a lot of the other parts of the world, people are still partying.”
Similarly to Gottfried, Chang believes that this year will be about taking personal responsibility for the well-being of others.
“I feel like even those students who are out partying are trying to be as safe as possible,” Chang said.
Ana Fernandez ’24, an RA in Munger Hall, believes that the success of this year’s residential experience hinges on avoiding risky situations altogether.
“I’ve been telling my residents to be COVID safe, even outside of Wellesley because that’ll impact Wellesley ultimately,” Fernandez said. “If a resident goes out to Boston and goes to a frat party where there are hundreds of maskless and unvaccinated people, then this is all for naught.”
Like many students, Chang feels that last year’s restrictions created a less than ideal college environment.
“I feel like [last year] people were frustrated with the social barriers that they put around us,” Chang said. “You feel like you’re not getting the full college experience because of it.”
Some students, such as Fernandez, were initially worried that the new rules would mark a return to the isolation and steep restrictions from last year. While many students hope to avoid an increase in COVID-19 cases, the potential threat of isolation from peers may be more at the forefront of students’ concerns. Even in the face of these concerns, however, res life staff are confident that this year will prove to hold much more freedom for the student body.
“Our initial fear that [the new guidelines] were a retreat back to last year is false, especially for now. Because we’re seeing that we can be out in the community.” Fernandez said.
Despite this year’s lingering restrictions, students are confident that this year will be a huge improvement on last year’s college experience. For example, despite the new restrictions, the college has remained firm on its allowance of student travel to Boston. Students also remain hopeful about this year’s new social opportunities, even in the face of a continuing pandemic.