How has college changed after the global pandemic that plagued us all.

A classroom full of college students during a lecture

The last few years have been quite chaotic due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. I could write a whole blog post on just the struggles many of us faced during the pandemic but I am not going to do that. There are already plenty of news outlets and articles that have covered that extensively; and if you are like me, you are sick of hearing about covid. That’s why I am moving on, I know the coronavirus is an ongoing issue and we will probably hear about it for years to come, but I am now considering us to be in the post-pandemic stage. “Endemic stage” is more a more scientific label, but “post-pandemic” seems more positive, like we are finally out of this thing. So let’s move on from all this virus verbiage and get to my topic: what is it like attending college in wake of a global crisis?

To be completely honest, it is a little strange. For roughly three years we were told to avoid large gatherings and to stay six feet away from each other. Those are beneficial protocols when it comes to handling viruses but they are also detrimental to the human psyche, especially when they lasted as long as they did. We wore masks that covered our faces and we did not talk to each other out in public. Our friends and family became the sole means of communicating. So now that class is back in session literally, many of us are having a hard time going back to normal.

I can only speak from my experiences if I want to make this an honest post. I only attend one college and my observations are strictly narrowed down to classmates of mine. I’m sure each university is a little different but I believe that many college students would agree with this blog. I do attend a public state university just so you know that I’m not basing these claims off of an experience at a small community college in some rural town. I attend regular classes with anywhere from fifteen to thirty students. Another piece of info you should know is that I live off-campus so I can not speak for college life in the dorms or at fraternity houses.

To describe what college is like right now in a single sentence, I would say: the vibe is weird. I had a long conversation with an English professor that I highly respect and we both agreed that everything isn’t back to normal just yet. I remember telling him that it seems like everyone is walking around impersonating a college student instead of actually being one. He laughed and agreed. It’s hard to explain what I mean. It’s like we are all there physically in the class, but none of us are really there. there is no sense of life. No one expresses even the slightest hint of personality. When a professor asks a question, there is often an awkward silence followed by one student giving a generic answer just to ease the tension. My favorite part of college used to be when the professor broke away from the material and allowed for an open discussion amongst all of us. That isn’t happening anymore and it is kind of depressing.

Empty seats in a college auditorium

The point of college, in my opinion, is to get people to a level of intellectual know-how which allows them to think for themselves and know why they think what they do. I know that the main reason for college is to have access to higher paying jobs but I like to think that it provides us more than that. Though I wouldn’t condemn you for disagreeing. I have many qualms when it comes to the modern higher education system. One issue is that even before the pandemic, I have encountered multiple professors that haven’t lived up to their roles. Bad professors have plagued higher education much longer than covid has. Yet, with a good professor, college can be a fun and enlightening experience. In an ideal world, college provides you a platform to discuss a broad range of topics with your peers so that you can all grow together. If done right, learning shouldn’t feel like a chore.

I think the reason things are so weird now is that we are all adjusting in our own way to living regular life again. Dr. Fauci didn’t come on the news one day and ring a bell and say “alright, we are done, everyone go back to normal”. It isn’t like that. All of us students went from zoom classes where we turned off our webcams and scrolled through Tik Tok’s until the professor shut up, to now being in a class, face-to-face, with no means to mute and hide ourselves. Many young students finished their high school careers via online sessions. Being a freshman in college is already a little intimidating, but being a freshman in college after graduating high school from a laptop in your parent’s house is an even greater issue. I feel bad for these eighteen and nineteen year olds that just started college. It has to be tough coming into such a new environment after being closed off from the world for so long.

People wearing masks outside near a collumn

Now, we must talk about the masks. My college, as of today, still requires everyone to wear a mask indoors. However you may feel about masks, whether they are an idiotic measure of false safety or a necessary precaution, they do have a profound effect on our social encounters. Seeing each other’s faces is so fundamental for communication. A mask robs us of our identities. Think of Halloween when you were a kid. Maybe you dressed up as a vampire, or maybe you dressed as one of your favorite rockstars. Regardless of what you were, you put on this costume and you assumed a new identity. You could go up to your neighbor’s door and take candy from them without them knowing who you were. In a way, you were invisible. Though people could see your body and may have even recognized your voice, they were not seeing the real you. That’s what these masks are doing now. My classmates still feel like strangers to me as they enter the room quietly behind this cloth shield. I don’t know who they are. I can’t tell if they are having a good day or a bad one. I can’t see them smile if the professor says something funny or makes an embarrassing mistake. This makes for an awful environment for engaging in intellectual discussions.

I never imagined that I would be able to compare college to Halloween, it’s a truly strange time here on planet Earth. Some lyrics from the song “Strange Days” by the Struts comes to mind when I think about the current social climate:

“Oh thеse are strange times
Lost in our mi-minds
We don’t know, it’s unclear
Where we’ll be this time next year”

I do have hope though. I think that soon we will all start to notice that lack of real and meaningful engagements. Not just on college campuses, but everywhere. I miss all of you strangers. I miss meeting new people. I miss seeing my classmates’ faces. I miss seeing your mouths as funny as that sounds.

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