Cho Yin Rachel Lo
Five months and 11 days after Emerson prematurely shuttered its campuses due to the initial U.S. outbreak of COVID-19, the college officially reopened its newly-retrofitted campus Monday, welcoming thousands to a campus strikingly different than it has been in the past.
Those returning were greeted with plexiglass in front of residence hall tap desks, boxed meals from the dining center, and a mandatory quarantine requirement after undergoing testing upon move-in. As the semester began, students attended classes wearing masks in distanced classrooms, theaters, and hotels for the first time.
The return to campus has elicited a mix of reactions from students. For many, coming back is a welcome return to some semblance of normalcy.
“This is my first experience at college, so all we’ve known is masks and social distancing—it’s not that bad,” Visual and Media Arts first-year Kerri Stephenson said while lounging in Boston Common, sitting next to another student in the honors program who she met online over the summer. “I feel like maybe upperclassmen are probably struggling more.”
For others, the return brought newfound anxieties and safety restrictions difficult to adjust to.
“I was very nervous obviously,” Junior Zoe Mccoy said. “But I just want to graduate and get out so taking a gap semester really wasn’t an option, so [I felt] a little bit of a grim acceptance of having to come back.”
Mccoy said the influx of information on the virus and the regulations related to it have been a lot to keep tabs on.
“I feel like that the hardest part is on top of classes, I also have to just keep track of all of the additional information,” she said. “To go into every building and having to have [the symptom tracker] ready is lanother level of forethought that just makes it a little bit harder.”
Before students began returning to campus, the plan had garnered backlash on social media from both alumni and current students, who said sending community members to downtown Boston was dangerous for both them and other residents.
“I was apprehensive at first and to be honest, Boston is a pretty densely populated city,” Sophomore VMA major Prince Wang said. “I’m from California, and California is pretty suburban in a lot of areas but cases are horrible there. So in my mind I was wondering how they were able to pull it off.”
Conversely, junior journalism major Kaitlyn Fehr said the plan has gone better than she expected.
“I’m pleasantly surprised because I don’t have that much faith in Emerson, and I feel like they handled it much better than I thought they were going to,” she said.
Fehr said walking around campus with the new regulations in place has been off-putting.
“It’s definitely a weird vibe as a whole cause the campus feels super empty,” she said. “People are so spread out, and some just didn’t come back.”
Claire Rodenbush, a junior creative writing major, said they feel like the sacrifices students are making are worth it to keep everyone safe.
“It’s definitely going to take some getting used to and some adapting, but it’s also necessary,” they said. “I’d rather be a little thrown off by an aesthetic if it’s going to help people. It’s definitely going to be weird for some classes… when you’re all sitting facing one direction, you can’t actually look at people.”
For Wang, his return to Boston from California was motivated by a desire to spend more time on Emerson’s campus.
“All of us are spring admits, so we started school last January,” Wang said while eating dinner with his friends in the 2 Boylston Place alley. “So we only had like two months of actual physical school. My main reason [for coming back] was that I wanted to physically be in this school for a while. But the caveat was being in Boston is probably safer to be in than California.”
The aspect of campus life that has arguably taken the biggest hit is socialization, as any large gatherings are specifically prohibited. Typical on-campus spaces that students may meet up in are under strict capacity restrictions.
Sophomore Business of Creative Enterprises Major Halle Korman, who is a member of Sigma Pi Theta, said she is still trying to figure out how best to interact with her sorority sisters at the moment.
“We’re trying to figure out how to do that with everything right now and it’s a little difficult,” she said. “So it’s a little stressful, but we just have to kinda figure it out.”
Sophomore VMA student Maximus Papsadore said interacting with his friends has become harder.
“In our suites, we are allowed a guest number up to basically [half] the amount of people in our suite,” Papsadore said. “So we have six people in the suite, and we’re allowed…three guests.”
Despite the strict rules on residence hall access and limits on group congregation, Stephenson said she has still been finding ways to make friends.
“I honestly don’t think that our social aspect of college has been affected that much,” she said. “We’re still just hanging out and stuff. You just have to be safe.
Sophomore writing, literature and publishing major Chelsea Gibbons, who is on the girl’s basketball team, said the regulations to Emerson’s sports teams have been difficult to adapt to. For example, only half of any team may go to the fitness center for conditioning at one time.
“Normally, the captains would have set something up for us to see each other or go to the gym,” she said. “But obviously you can’t really do that, so it’s hard to get those team bonding experiences in. We’re still a close team, so we’ll probably be fine with just practices and things, but it’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Gibbons said she’s been looking into literary magazine clubs to join now, since she decided not to join any organizations during her freshman year to acclimate to college and the team.
“I was like, ‘I’ll just do it next year,’” she said. “But now I’m like, ‘Wait, I should have done it before, because now it’s harder.’”
Student employees, like Anna Dannecker, a senior comedic arts major who works in the Iwasaki Library, also had to quickly adjust to new practices. Students must now make appointments through Spacebook in order to enter the library, and books must be quarantined when they are returned.
“It’s new for everybody,” she said. “The people training us are like, ‘this is the first time we’re doing any of this too,’ so it’s just being patient with each other.”
Despite the learning curve, Dannecker said the new procedures helped to ease her worries.
“Coming into work…this is really reassuring,” she said. “Even though there’s so many new things to learn, that we have, like stickers on the floor, and a pathway to go to class, and a pathway to come to the desk, and the appointment system, and all this plexiglass, I feel safe.”
Dannecker, who is also a Little Building resident assistant, said she feels bad for her residents, who are itching to socialize with each other. She said she worries about what would happen if there was an outbreak of COVID-19 in a residence hall, and the whole building had to quarantine.
“At some point, Paramount can only hold so many people,” she said.
However, she said she is confident most Emerson students will wear masks and follow guidelines if they receive “constant reminders.” When she went to the Dining Center, she said, Dannecker observed people failing to stand on the stickers demarcating social distancing space, and instead bunching up in a line.
“I’m really confident in all the procedures in place, it’s just everyone remembering to follow them,” she said. “If everyone were to follow procedures every day, we’d be fine.”
Papsadore said safety hasn’t been much of a concern for him so far.
“Honestly, Emerson’s plan has been pretty good so far,” he said. “I haven’t felt exposed to any virus or situation like that.”
Still, some residents’ worries persist.
“I still am afraid but a lot of precautions are being made,” Mccoy said. “So I guess there’s still a little bit of anxiety, but there’s not a lot else [the college] can do.”