A Student's Perspective on the COVID Campus Experience

February 22, 2021

A post by Michele Wen, '20

Future Spiders of the Class of 2025:

Like many of you, I started my senior year in the middle of a pandemic. Not so fun, right?

Now, imagine that it’s also your final semester of college. For me, this was the reality just a few short months ago. My excitement about returning to campus quickly turned into nervous anticipation as the school year crept closer. I was beyond thrilled to finally see my friends again, but my excitement was overshadowed by my fears about COVID-19. Were students going to follow the new rules? Would they take the pandemic seriously and avoid risking the health and safety of both themselves and those around them? So many questions and so much uncertainty.

However, our Spider community is resilient and innovative! Although classroom access was restricted to instruction only, UR set up outdoor tents to create additional study and dining spaces. They even added heaters for when the temperatures dropped (luckily, Richmond’s weather is temperate even in late October). Dining Services implemented online ordering to avoid congregations of students waiting in line; instead, you could order food from an app on your phone and wait until it was ready to pick up. The staff even set up an auxiliary dining hall in the Tyler Haynes Commons, the gorgeous student center that sits across the lake.

In shared spaces especially, cleaning was enhanced. Classrooms were wiped down before and after use, and our professors worked tirelessly to maintain the same intensity in our classes as before. For my in-person classes, my professors were extremely accommodating and understanding about allowing students to join via Zoom if they were feeling unwell that day. The priority, they emphasized, was our health and safety. That sentiment is strongly shared by everyone from students to faculty to staff. My friend Noelle’s professor, Dr. Matthew Oware, even gave her class two “mental health days” toward the latter half of the semester when work tends to pile up. 

Social life looked different, too. Most students stayed on campus, but I chose to continue living off-campus about ten minutes away. For me, living off-campus was nothing new. However, with the new policies and procedures in place to limit contact and the spread of COVID, my social life changed drastically. I could no longer swing by my friends’ rooms to just to hang out or do homework, nor could they visit me. Exploring more of Richmond (especially all of the amazing restaurants and eateries), visiting museums, and even studying at coffee shops wasn’t permitted.

Though it was initially difficult, and at times frustrating to navigate these changes, my friends and I eventually fell into a new “normal” both on- and off-campus. At home, I would spend as much time as possible outdoors on my balcony (I even invested in an egg chair!). Facetime and Zoom became my go-to ways to hang out with friends. We’d watch movies and comedy specials, cook, and even do homework together. My club volleyball team practiced outdoors, so I got to reconnect with old teammates and meet a bunch of new (and masked) ones. My friends and I even broke out our crafting skills to celebrate my friend Jeremy’s 21st birthday! With the help of a lot of duct tape, someone’s white bed sheet, a carefully placed bar stool, and a projector, we had a socially distant outdoor movie night. 

It was in moments like these that I remembered how lucky I was to be at Richmond with my friends. While most of our original plans had been upended because of the pandemic, by sticking together and finding new and safe ways to hang out, we had a truly amazing and memorable semester. It may not have looked like a classic college experience, but in some ways, it was even better.