By Olivia Montes
As the 2021 fall semester started on Aug. 30, Washington College also began the process of helping individuals readjust to an in-person learning experience.
On June 25, the College Contingency Planning Group released “The Return of the Flock,” which outlines COVID-19 guidelines and safety protocols all WC community members should follow while navigating the return to an in-person structure.
“In the spring, we were cautious about transitioning from virtual to in-person, and we wanted to see how [making the transition] would go — and it went great,” Interim Provost Dr. Michael Harvey said. “The CPG thought long and hard and over the summer, as we continued to see vaccination rates go up and we could see levels of COVID-19 cases go down in Kent County and across the state…it seemed that we could return to in-person in the fall.”
According to the document, the primary goal of initiating these mandated and recommended policies is to help establish a “[true] return to normal,” which includes a combination of pre- COVID-19 safety measures and others depending on one’s vaccination status — all while abiding by instructions given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This includes wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and consistently watching for updates concerning the number of positive cases on campus and in the surrounding Kent County.
For many students and faculty members alike, a return to the College campus and a “new normal” is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking.
“At the same time, in that excitement, there [also] might be a little bit of anxiety about what the semester is going to look like because we don’t know what really is going to happen,” Dr. Martin Ponti, associate professor of Hispanic studies and first year seminar director, said. “This past year, [students] were accustomed to learning within a pandemic mode, which became very flexible— and now that we are going back to in-person…they are not sure of what each professor is going to keep or not.”
As Associate Professor of Studio Art Dr. Julie Wills states, being back in-person, though it does allow for students, staff, and faculty to make up for lost time, still living in the COVID-19 pandemic has many feeling anxious of what may come.
“I’m seeing a lot of anxiety with the students who are coming in [thinking] that they aren’t going to be prepared because they have been learning remotely up until this point — just a lot of real fear about coming onto campus,” she said.
But, despite having strict in-person instruction, including classes, labs, performance spaces, and office hours, many faculty members, like Professor of English and American Studies Dr. Alicia Knight, will strive to incorporate lessons learned from being online, including “being more flexible [and] encouraging self-care.”
“The past year has reinforced the fact that we are a residential community,” Dr. Knight said. “We’ve managed as best we could in virtual classrooms, but we do our best teaching and learning in-person.”
Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. Erin Anderson is also happy to be back, saying that, despite the changes the College has gone through and continues to see within the next few months, returning to an on-campus, in-person academic year is a “welcome change” and initiates a “feeling of normalcy.”
“Even if things are different with masking and social distancing…I really hope we can persevere through the entire academic year with in-person instruction, realizing that some of this is within our control and some beyond it,” she said.
For several WC students, the chance to live, learn, and be an active part of the WC campus after spending the previous academic year online is also compelling.
“I am excited [about] being on campus in person and being with friends, and all the opportunities that will be available, [like] interacting with my professors and classmates and creating connections,” freshman Kaitlin Osucha said. “My Peer Mentor group is so much fun, and I’ve already created so many great friends.”
“The energy on campus is so positive,” senior and Student Government Association President Katherine DeSantis said. “I can say that, for myself, my cheeks have hurt from how much I have been smiling, and I feel like the general student vibe is that people are happy and doing what it takes to keep the community safe.”
While some are enthusiastic to be back, others, like senior Alisha White, note possible challenges that may come with making the transition.
“Transitioning from online to in-person will be difficult,” she said. “We all got used to being on Zoom calls and not interacting in person. Now that we are in person, some people will have to step out of their comfort zone in and out of class.”
“We have gotten so used to being behind the screen, that going back to [being] in person will almost feel as if a shock is striking our lives into something that has become foreign to us, where it once was the everyday normal,” sophomore Grace Apostol said. “[But] even though it’s scary…I am cautiously excited to be back in the classrooms.”
While concerns pertaining to individuals not following WC COVID-19 safety guidelines and potentially returning to online learning have been voiced, many students feel confident that the College will generate and maintain communication both in and out of the classroom which will allow many to feel comfortable coming back and making the most of their respective experiences.
“I am over the moon about being back in-person for my first year,” freshman Benjamin Francis said. “I am very excited to get to know professors face-to-face instead of through a screen…and about being able to socialize with my peers and other students who share my same interests.”
“It’s been a big transition for everybody,” junior Noah Vargas said. “But I think, with the students I’ve interacted with so far, everybody is excited to be back and it’s been a really awesome experience to have them come back and be able to interact with each other in a safe way.”
While this semester may continue to look different, many individuals are certain that WC will not only keep students comfortable, but make sure that they are truly thriving throughout and beyond the year.
“This year is a revival year: we are coming back better than ever and we are ready,” White said. “The pandemic may continue to alter a lot of the things we call normal on campus, but I think we are better prepared for the change in comparison to when this all began.”
“We have already been through a lot and I think that we are well prepared for this go-around to handle anything that comes our way,” she said.