Despite students bracing for a taxing semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic, spikes in cases across campus and operation status changes made it, nonetheless, a challenging term.
As students reflected on the last several months, they expressed a wide range of emotions. Some said COVID-19’s isolating effects had made them feel lonely. Others said they were able to forge connections despite it. Still more expressed surprise that the student body made it through the semester without being sent home.
“I’m surprised we’re still here,” said freshman Lanie Angelo. “There’s more things running than I’d thought there’d be.”
Angelo is also conducting a project for her Writing 111 class, interviewing fellow freshmen about their thoughts on the semester. According to Angelo, gratitude has been a common theme among the responses.
“From what I’ve been gathering, people have been feeling very grateful that we’re here,” she said. “We’re exhausted by Zoom, but everybody would rather be here and do Zoom than at home. I think that the gratefulness trumps that.”
For first-year students who had their senior year in high school cut off, the opportunity to live on campus and meet people — especially given how few universities held in-person semesters — was especially cherished.
“I think [Wake Forest] did a good job of having blended classes and allowing us to be on campus while experiencing campus life,” said freshman Daryna Lapomarede. “Especially as a freshman, I appreciated being on campus and still getting to go to classes, make friends, join clubs and just the experience altogether, I really appreciated it.”
But COVID-19 could be an isolating factor at times, especially among underclassmen. Without the opportunity for many social gatherings and most clubs and classes restricted to Zoom, meeting people has been an obstacle.
“I would say that even though this semester felt pretty lonely a lot of the time, I was happy with the few connections I was able to make,” said freshman Emily Foley. “It’s been tough for everyone. We got through it though!”
Though students have been able to remain on campus, some pointed out how some students have continued to violate COVID-19 regulations, especially in the final few weeks of the semester. Senior Katie Sprague said she hopes students step up more next semester.
“I’m disappointed that the student body seems to have given up toward the end,” Sprague said. “I didn’t think we would last this long.”
Climbing active case numbers, which currently sit at 101, have worried senior Molly McComb, who has a compromised immune system. That makes COVID-19 much more dangerous for her, and presents extra challenges in staying safe.
“I’ve had to be very careful about what I do and who I see. This summer, I expected I’d be spending almost all of my time in my apartment and I was right. I’ve had to find a balance of seeing my friends so I can try to stay sane, while also setting boundaries so I can protect myself. It hasn’t been easy by any means, especially while I’m trying to write my thesis, but I’m glad and very lucky that I’ve been able to be here,” McComb said. “Obviously, four years ago, I didn’t think I’d be spending my senior year this way, but I’ve been able to form stronger relationships with people I wouldn’t have otherwise. So it has not been all bad by any means.”
Like McComb, most students didn’t think they’d be spending their semester like this — and seniors didn’t expect their last fall on campus to be in the midst of a pandemic. Though some students were happy with how the university handled the situation, others felt they weren’t given enough support.
“[We did not have] enough support from Wake Forest’s administration,” said junior JT Owens. “[The semester was] way more stressful than it needed to be.”
Sophomore Savant Patel agreed. He noted that his workload was much heavier in online classes.
“[It was] a lot more work than expected compared to the last two semesters,” he said. However, he also noted that it was a “successful semester COVID-19-wise despite some surges, as we made it to the end.”
Patel hopes administrators will listen to students’ concerns next semester and respond more to the impacts of the pandemic on academics.
The semester, of course, presented a wide range of difficulties. Many students cited a lack of motivation brought on by online classes. Others said they felt a disconnect with their professors, had internet issues or had Zoom fatigue and eye strains from being on a computer most of the day. As for Zoom itself, some students believed some class formats worked better than others.
“Zoom lectures were so much harder to follow than Zoom discussion-based classes,” said senior Gwyneth Lonergan.
Students have many hopes for next semester: more in-person sporting events, that professors manage the workload better, that students support their community more and that they’ll be able to take more classes in-person. The new vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, which have evidence of being 94.5% and 95% effective respectively, have also been a source of hope for students.
In a world determined by the spread of a pandemic, one fact does seem to remain the same: students want to return to normal. Soon, hopefully, that will be possible.