As an unusual summer of quarantining, wearing masks and social distancing came to an end a few months ago, it was time yet again to head back to school. There was no doubt this fall semester was going to be strange, and nothing has changed much since those assumptions.
Starting junior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I kept my head held high knowing that this semester was not going to be like the last two years on campus. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students aren’t experiencing a normal college life. And surviving it all is a challenge.
For college students everywhere, school is the number one priority, but so is having a great time outside of the classroom. With classes, most University students take them online from the comfort of their dorm room or apartment. Though some classes are a scheduled Zoom lecture or pre-made videos, many students do take other classes in person, which is way different from past years. Students sit with masks on, separated from their peers with the professor lecturing from what feels like a mile away.
Having one in-person class and four online this fall, it somewhat feels like a normal college schedule, but not by a longshot. In past semesters, thousands of students on campus, including myself, grew so accustomed to normal college life: sitting side by side in a lecture hall, studying in groups and having face-to-face access to a professor or teacher’s assistant.
Even now, students have to make reservations to study in some of the campus libraries. Not having those necessities has made college all the more difficult. Not only school, but life on campus outside of the classroom is nothing like past years. Most clubs aren’t occurring or if they are, it’s virtual. Students are encouraged to social distance on campus, so no more sitting in large groups on the Main Quad or having physical study sessions in the library.
Students, along with other fans, aren’t even allowed to attend football games during this late season start in person, which feels like a knife to the chest, especially for sports fans. Students can’t sit down in a campustown restaurant or bowl at the Illini Union. No one can hardly have a college experience.
Normally, while serving as a senior columnist for the Daily Illini, I am also a Blockhead, a member of Block I who helps with various gameday activities and a member of the Starcourse Concert Committee, which hosts multiple national bands throughout the year for students. Because of the pandemic, there is no Block I in person and concerts can’t happen. However, while still fortunate enough to continue writing for the DI, I am also continuing to do other normal activities, like playing acoustic guitar, throwing a frisbee on the quad with friends or having a movie night with them.
It doesn’t feel like college life from past years, but we’re doing everything in our power to make it work. One major change to the University arrived just about the same time students did: the new testing centers. Located all throughout campus at favorite spots like Foellinger Auditorium, the StateFarm Center and the Illini Union, students are expected to test twice a week if they wish to have building access. When testing negative, the results will then register on the new Safer Illinois app for students and faculty to grant them access to any building on campus.
Normally, the University scenery looks wonderful in the fall, but having white tents for testing centers scattered across campus makes for a new scenic environment. To say the least, even though campus life is quite different for students and faculty this semester, it’s a blessing to be here on campus in the first place. The University has done nothing but great things to help keep students safe and healthy during this time and there’s no doubt there will continue to do so throughout the pandemic.
Who knows what the future may hold these days. The times in which we live are frustrating, unprecedented, and most of all, unpredictable. Everyone, especially fellow University students, needs to keep doing everything in their power to stay safe and healthy so we can stay on campus for as long as we can.
It may not look like it now, but a normal college experience is right around the corner. Sooner or later, everyone will see the light at the end of the tunnel.