If you’re on campus at Boston University and witnessing the city’s slow transition into spring — barring unpredictable Boston weather — the news of in-person classes and Commencement has arrived alongside the bloom of fresh flowers and the irresistible feeling of hope.
But still, all new beginnings bring anxiety and growing pains.
Even if the normal we return to is the “pre-pandemic normal” that current sophomores and juniors have experienced, current and incoming freshmen may have a bigger gap to cross in transitioning to a large, bustling college campus.
Depending on the courses required for their major — such as performing arts classes that have been unable to reach their full potential virtually — some students may find they’re further set back than they would like.
Furthermore, everyone will face an adjustment period coming out of a year of isolation. After registration took place over the past couple of weekends, many have come to reckon with the concept of passing time once more, factoring in commute times between classes on the long stretch of Commonwealth Avenue instead of the time it takes to click between Zoom links.
More likely than not, this normal will be profoundly impacted by our shared experience of COVID-19. If we return to full capacity in lecture halls, the sheer concentration of people may become overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Social interaction, too, may be a lot to handle after this long period of distancing. We may find ourselves easily overstimulated despite our eagerness to jump back into the thick of things.
There also remains the lingering fear of COVID-19 itself — though BU is mandating vaccinations for students, there is still inadequate information on how long-lasting or effective the vaccines will be.
Since vaccine availability to students will be staggered, what does that mean for opening the campus back up? What does it mean for full capacity dorms and classrooms, or visitors in residences?
If BU is planning for a full-throttle return like it seems to be doing, perhaps it should consider reinstating certain aspects of campus life in stages, such as large lecture halls, visitors in residences and dorms with multiple roommates. This way, if there’s a need to boost vaccines or, God forbid, another wave of cases, the consequences will not be as drastic.
What rises above all the fears of returning to campus is, of course, the excitement of returning to normalcy. It would be remiss not to highlight the palpable optimism in the air.
Think of reestablishing human connection and having all those inexplicable, hard-to-quantify, little moments between strangers and friends on campus — introducing yourself to your new classmates; grabbing lunch together at the George Sherman Union; bumping into someone you know while grabbing Starbucks; meeting with your study group in the library; helping someone figure out how to work the printers; passing by a farmer’s market you hadn’t heard about. These are just a few of the million idiosyncrasies we’re eager to come home to at BU.
We’ll finally be able to transcend those rows of impenetrable greyed-out Zoom boxes to establish in-person student-professor relationships. We’ll be able to greet that professor coming into class, stay late to ask a question without the invisible eyes of other Zoom users and crack a joke that will be acknowledged rather than uncomfortably lost in the recesses of the chat.
Perhaps most importantly, we’ll be able to track down professors face to face to resolve a problem or question, rather than sitting by our computers refreshing Piazza and our email inbox for hours on end.
There are also some aspects of our pre-pandemic lives we may have long forgotten about that will catch us by pleasant surprise.
If you’ve forgotten to eat or sleep at normal times during quarantine, going back to an in-person experience along streets lined with restaurants and dining halls and spending time with friends will help restore order in your life. You’ll also be forced to go outside and walk to reach your classes, which will naturally make your day more active.
And though class rigor may not change, it will likely be easier to focus in a classroom setting with less accessible distractions.
We’re urgently awaiting Fall 2021 with both excitement and trepidation. For all the downsides, we are desperately in need of in-person classes, socialization and communication. We only ask that the University maintain caution when easing us into the transition.