A walk on campus this fall is a quieter experience than a typical semester, but there is still life here: Musicians singing or playing instruments in the parking garage. Dancers practicing on the Quad or in the studio. Actors rehearsing with others in person and on Zoom, projected on a big screen. Classes across campus meeting outdoors, weather permitting.
Wearing masks, students still study together on the lawn or roast marshmallows over the fire pit. An occasional skateboarder rolls by. There is still a campus experience – albeit a different one with fewer people on campus, the majority of classes online and safety precautions that must be followed as part of the University’s state-approved Red Hawk Restart plan.
“We’re embracing this idea that we’re doing what we need now for everyone to be safe,” says junior Robert Onoz, a Physics major with a concentration in Physical Science Education. “It’s less scary that way too, to reassure us that this isn’t the ‘new normal.’ This is something we’re going through now, but it will change.”
“In order to stay on campus, we must work together, and try our best to slow the spread.”
“I feel very lucky to actually be here,” freshman Julia Ciesielsk, an Acting major from Massachusetts, said on the first day of the semester in August. “So even getting just the slightest bit of a college experience, I’m very happy to be here and meet new people.”
All fall, students understood that if they didn’t follow the guidelines, they could get sent home and if cases spiked, the on-campus experience could end.
“Sometimes I forget there are other people in the building.”
“In order to stay on campus, we must work together, and try our best to slow the spread,” says Manny Wheagar, a junior Biology major who works as a student Community Health Ambassador walking around campus in a vest to hand out masks and answer questions about the University’s safety protocols.
The Sound of Silence
When sophomore Journalism major Carley Campbell’s father helped her move into Freeman Hall in August, they both thought it might just be days before she would have to head home again. But as the days turned to weeks and campus coronavirus cases remained relatively low, Campbell settled into the semester, including hosting a quirky weekend history radio show on WMSC-FM from her dorm room and a daily news show from a studio, where she’s flying solo.
“A lot of the time, because I can’t control the sounds in the background, you can hear birds or my fan blowing,” she says, of doing the show from her room. In the studio, it’s much quieter, since she’s the only one there. “Still, you have to have personal protective gear, like masks, gloves and headphone covers, and you Zoom in with the directors.”
She told these stories in a video call while sitting in Freeman’s laundry room as her roommate took an online class in their room. “It’s so quiet,” she says. “Sometimes I forget there are other people in the building.”
Peace In The Quad
For Luz Corado Polo, the quiet campus has taken some getting used to. “[In the past,] you would always see the Quad full with people from different organizations. It was just so packed,” says the senior Justice Studies major. “And now it’s so empty and weird. I find myself asking, ‘Where is everybody? Where did everybody go?’”
It may be strangely quiet, but student groups gather both virtually and in person, providing some socially distanced ways to connect, including weekly Friday night fire pits behind the Rec Center and outdoor movies on the Quad – and there are many times in a week when the Red Hawk parking deck is filled with the sounds of music.
The Sounds of Music
“It was clear that the directors and the students fully grasped the magnitude of the moment – many were openly emotional.”
For musicians who had been singing or playing instruments in isolation for six months before the semester began, the return to in-person rehearsals made for a meaningful – and at times, emotional – start to the school year.
“Not having played music with another human being in six months and then finally playing with all my peers made me cry during the first piece we played,” recalls Sabrina Isaac, a junior Clarinet Performance major, describing the feeling during those first notes.
“The experience was quite overwhelming,” said sophomore Music Education major Ryan Branco, a trumpeter with the Wind Symphony. “It’s quite breathtaking to see how easy it is to pick up where you last left off.”
And that they did.