Some of the students who for a variety of reasons did not move to campus at the start of Module 1 and instead arrived for Module 2 have now spent several weeks at Macalester. Coming to campus for this module, which started on October 28th, carried its own set of unique challenges and opportunities as students attempt to integrate new pods and make friends while navigating the safety precautions wrought by the pandemic.
When students arrived on campus near the end of October, many remarked on the notable absence of lively campus activity.
“It was a little depressing because it was really empty,” Marley Prichard ’24, who was in Turkey for Module 1, said. “That’s the only thing I really remember. I felt like I was moving into a ghost town.”
Prichard’s arrival for Module 2 marked her first time being on campus as a college student. Prichard said that it took time for that feeling to set in.
“The first week before Halloween was difficult because the weather was keeping everyone inside,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was at Mac until the weather got good that one week and everyone was sitting outside. I remember thinking: wow, I’m actually at college.”
When Karley Thurston ’24 came to campus at the start of Module 2, she feared she would have to break into friend groups that were closed due to the pod policy. However, she found that groups were available and welcoming.
“I thought it would be harder to acclimate since people already had their pods,” Thurston said. “Having to break into pods was a worry of mine.”
Moving to campus created opportunities for social interaction and community that at times could be lacking when studying off-campus.
“I was very withdrawn at home,” Thurston, who stayed at home during Module 1 due to worries about COVID-19, said. “Being in a dorm, you see people every day, so my mental health is a lot better. There’s also an added stress because you’re dealing with COVID.”
Thurston is a member of the women’s cross-country team. She has found that the team gives her a natural pod and friend group, but she has noticed that the increased amount of time spent socializing with others has made time management more difficult as she balances training with studying.
“Managing time with practice is harder than I thought it would be,” Thurston said. “At home, my only social time would be to go on a run with my friend. Now there is other social time, so there is less time [available] than when I was at home.”
Miranda Farrow ’24 said that she hasn’t sensed any exclusion of newly arrived students from friend groups either.
“I’ve definitely met a lot of people,” she said.
Moving back to campus also brought a sense of normalcy to many students’ lives. It eased a significant burden for students arriving from afar where time differences previously forced a nearly nocturnal lifestyle.
“Initially, the time difference wasn’t a problem. I had prepared myself for going nocturnal,” Amman Hussain ’24, who lives in Dubai, said. “As time went on, there was a lot of attrition in doing that because you don’t see the sun and you don’t see many people. Even though you are in your house with your family you are essentially alone. I am [now] living how a human should normally live.”
Perhaps most importantly, living on-campus provides a sense of community and a stronger identity as a Macalester student. Being among friends who are in similar situations to oneself seems to have improved productivity among newly arrived students.
“I’m a lot more productive at Mac, to be honest,” Farrow said. “I have easier access to people in my classes.”
Living with peers who are studying when you are studying and are accessible socially is an important part of creating a sense of belonging that had been lacking while attending classes from home.
“When I was completely remote [classes] felt like some random lectures I had signed up for online,” Prichard said. “Once you come to campus, you see people in your class and daily life, you study in the library, you go to practice and use your ID card to get into buildings. I’m actually a Macalester student; I’m actually part of a community.”
Many students had profound gratitude for Macalester faculty in their understanding and leniency toward delays in academic work as they traveled to campus. Farrow was also thankful for her Module 1 professors’ work to accommodate and support her even as she was off campus.
“My first-year course professor sent everybody food and mailed it to everyone because at least a third of the class was remote,” Farrow said. “My other professor had Zoom office hours where he gave tours of campus.”
Prichard noted that a helpful change for any potential future move-ins in Module 3 and beyond would be to create connection opportunities for other students moving in at that time so they could have the chance to build friendships earlier on.
“It was really lonely and I felt like I was just wandering around for a week before classes started and I could actually start meeting people,” she said. “It would have been nice to know other people who were going through the same thing as me.”