Students return to a new campus with eased COVID-19 restrictions

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Photo: Cho Yin Rachel Lo

Students cross the intersection of Boylston St. and Tremont St. in front of the Little Building.

As students moved onto campus for the fall term, they returned to a bustling campus with minimized social distancing restrictions—a far cry from the Emerson many experienced over the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both returning students and incoming first-years were confronted with a campus that looked stunningly similar to the one they left behind in March 2020, even as the pandemic becomes a growing threat. Many students told The Beacon that the college’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions have bolstered their confidence in the school’s ability to curb cases, despite the presence of the Delta variant which has ignited a resurgence in the pandemic.

“​​Everyone’s getting tested weekly, and on top of that, most people are vaccinated,” said Marcel Truong-Chun, a senior visual and media arts production major. “I don’t want to say ‘overkill,’ but, it seems like it would be very hard for something [like major community spread] to slip through.”

Emerson is set to relax many of the remaining pandemic-era restrictions on campus life—including a mask mandate—on Sept. 17. In the meantime, students reported that the community vaccination mandate—as well as the vaccination levels in Massachusetts, over 65% fully inoculated—have helped to ease fears of community transmission on campus.

“I think it’s going pretty well so far,” said Ryan Greene, a junior visual and media arts production major. “It seems like people are kind of understanding, you know, how dangerous it is.”

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Students said they were excited to start anew this fall—without the burdens of strict lockdowns, hybrid learning, and social distancing guidelines—and the promise of once again resuming the in-person activities critical to a thriving college experience.

“Last school year felt like everyone was a little hollow on the inside,” said Ronald Kahihikolo, a senior journalism major. “I mean, that’s valid with the pandemic, but I feel like this past week has been really nice. I see a lot more vibrant energy in people’s faces and it’s a lot more encouraging to be on campus.”

This term, students will be attending fully in-person classes for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic—an experience that has been sorely missed by returning upperclassmen like Truong-Chun.

“I did have a production class when COVID started and that was a little bit hard to adapt to,” he said. “I think a lot of people would agree that production classes really weren’t as beneficial as they could be. I’m pretty excited to get back into it.”

Kahihikolo noted that the pandemic restrictions eliminated many opportunities for students to connect in person, clouding their perception of what the “full” Emerson experience looks like.

“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back into Emerson organizations,” he said. “I didn’t really do a lot of those last semester because there were a lot of restrictions, but now we’re able to be in rooms and do photoshoots and be more proactive with our projects. I’m super excited about that.”

Nevertheless, the increased campus density still provides a cause for concern for many. The easing of restrictions brings some concerns of students becoming remiss and shrugging off the remaining COVID-19 guidelines.

“Now that people are vaccinated, people are going to start going out more and be more reckless and ignorant,” said Kahihikolo. “That’s where I draw the line with how safe I feel because I don’t know where everyone’s going and what everyone’s doing on a day-to-day basis because we’re all interacting way more.”