Nearly three years coming: Emerson’s return to a pre-pandemic classroom


Jiaxin Xu

Emerson students having classes.

By Roe Medovoi-Klotz

As Emerson begins its fall semester, students are returning to campus with fewer COVID-19 restrictions. Masks are no longer mandatory in classrooms and room restrictions have been lifted; an atmosphere many students have grown accustomed to since the restrictions went into place two and a half years ago. 

The City of Boston has also relaxed a number of its COVID-19 policies. Public transportation riders are no longer required to wear masks and the CharlieCard store is open with increased walk-in hours. Additionally, the city relaxed its indoor mask and vaccine mandate, allowing Emerson students to move freely between the campus and the city with very few restrictions. 

Many Emerson students are celebrating these recents developments and rediscovering their freedom, like sophomore comedic arts major Sofia Farres.

“It felt like a huge relief just getting back onto campus and starting classes again,” said Farres. “It’s been nice to feel a little bit more normal…coming back and actually being able to see people’s faces again.”

Although there is still a risk of exposure, Ferras trusts her peers to use their own discretion, be respectful, and limit the spread of COVID-19 on campus. 

“I think that [Emerson students] wear masks when it’s appropriate,” she said. “Everybody’s been doing a good job keeping a decent distance and just being safety conscious.”

While some of the Emerson community hails the recent policy changes at the beginning of a return to a pre-pandemic learning environment, some are still adjusting to a campus that is radically different from 2020 and 2021, when COVID-19 regulations hindered many social activities.

First-year visual media arts major Avery Cather said she feels concerned about the number of students living in the dorms, particularly as the college relaxes its guidelines.

“It feels like we’re living in a hotel right now, and even with hotels we have to be pretty cautious of germs,” she said. “That aspect was pretty jarring. I expected it, but it’s different living with it.” 

Cather also expressed concern surrounding Emerson’s shift from isolation and quarantine housing to an isolate-in-place model. As announced on Emerson Today in early September, the isolate-in-place model  expects students to quarantine and isolate in their assigned living spaces, or make alternative living arrangements. 

In previous semesters, Emerson provided infected students with designated quarantine spaces to move in to, but students are now taking on far more responsibility for their own personal safety.

Cather is not optimistic that all Emerson students will follow these new protocols to protect the overall community, particularly if they feel pressured to keep up with their academic responsibilities. 

People here are hard on themselves and will want to get their money’s worth,” she said. “So they’re going to go to all the classes they can, even if they are sick… attendance policies should be aware of that.”

Cal Benn, a junior journalism major, raised a similar concern. Benn identified themself as immunocompromised, and they feel the college could be taking more precautions to protect students during the first month of classes.

“It’s a little overwhelming to be in a room with so many people and so few masks,” Benn said. “We have really low transmission rates, but people are coming from all over the world, so I’m nervous. This is also the first semester without testing since I’ve come here.”

Benn noted that while it’s exciting to be back at Emerson, some students may still be experiencing residual mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, making for a difficult transition to in-person learning. They said that Emerson staff and faculty should stay aware of this and be willing to meet students halfway in terms of absences and attendance.

“Even if this wasn’t a pandemic, I think that teachers could be more accommodating when it comes to attendance,” they said. “But changing general policies is difficult. [Emerson] tends to think in terms of crisis-response, and they need to understand that the crisis is still going on for some of us.” 

While the effects of the pandemic linger and continue to impact campus life, student health and safety remains one of Emerson administration’s highest priorities. 

The pandemic continues to evolve, and so do college policies and procedures,” Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe wrote in an email correspondence to the Emerson community in August.