Shift to in-person classes enriches community

The return to in-person campus life yields various academic and social benefits


Ansley McNeel, Staff Columnist

After three Zoom semesters, the Wake Forest experience is now almost completely in person. With this shift, there have been many changes to our social, emotional and academic attitudes. While I am thankful that I no longer have to sit in my room and log onto class online, I would like to give credit where credit is due: my in-person experience has been changed for the better by my semesters online.

Socially, I have a newfound excitement to be in class. Our worst day in person is better than our best day online. Even when students feel frustrated with the burdens of academic work, they still find joy within the in-person modality.

Surely, face-to-face interactions have a better chance to cheer someone up or turn a day around. It is easy to make friends when you sit across from one another instead of in your own rooms. Students are far more engaged before class even begins, and professors seem to be feeding off our energy for the better. Being able to interact more closely with my professors has been a highlight of the semester thus far — it is easier to connect with them when we are face to face and can casually chat before and after class.

Before COVID-19 changed all aspects of campus life, I believe that I took these opportunities for granted. When I was less able to interact with my professors in an online environment, I realized how much I missed those small talks that allow for students and professors to understand one another more fully.

Outside of the classroom, similar social changes persist. This semester, the sidewalks, quads and dining halls have been teeming with life. Students are laughing more easily, feeling less stress and taking fuller advantage of all the benefits that WFU has to offer. Athletics, for example, are a game changer. There is nothing like being in a stadium alongside your classmates cheering on your school to victory. Bumping into friends from your freshman hall on the way to class, meeting students who were in your online classes in person and feeling the small school vibe that we came here for has been restorative.

We are finally healing from all of the separative wounds students have suffered in the online semesters. We are finally coming back together as one.

The return to in person learning has affected students at Wake Forest academically. I have learned that, when it comes to learning, what you put into the pursuit affects what you get out of it. Now, I’m determined to enrich my own experiences. 

Participation is far easier when we can look around the room and read body language to perceive when a student might have something interesting to add to a conversation. This is especially true in many of my classes, given my English major. In these classes, we emphasize the importance of learning from our peers, considering that each person understands a text differently according to their experiences and background.

Yet another academic perk comes with the switch to in-person classes — we no longer have to use our computers in class. Many students like myself have medical conditions which make forced screen time difficult; classes were astronomically more challenging for me when I had to stare at a screen for hours on end, dependent on that screen to complete classwork and study for exams.

There was never a break from the glow of the screen, and it took me much longer to complete assignments because of these issues. Furthermore, focusing became much more difficult when text messages, email alerts and Netflix were all sitting right behind my notes. The return to paper texts, paper tests and paper studies has significantly enriched my own learning process. This capacity is more conducive to retaining what I am learning and keeping my mind healthy and sharp.

With the return to the in-person college experience, I have learned just how much relationships shape my outlook on life. It is far easier to feel connected to Wake Forest and the people here when I can anchor my memories in physical locations and conversations with friends.

People I’ve never met smile at me as I walk into Tribble. Friends I haven’t seen in a couple of weeks run up to embrace me as I sit in Benson. Professors who mentored me online stop me in the hallway to say hello in person. All of these seemingly small interactions add up to an aggregate that has radically shifted my capacity for joy here at Wake Forest.

As I move forward in my first fully in-person semester since my freshman year, I am remembering exactly why I chose to come here, and I am so thankful that we are approaching a truly normal college experience once again.