First-year students have started to adjust to college life, navigating long hours on Zoom and difficulties establishing community in the virtual learning environment by connecting over social media.
Georgetown University’s original reopening plan, released in July, invited approximately 2,000 students back to campus, including the entire Class of 2024. When the COVID-19 pandemic did not abate, however, the university revised its original plan, instead opting to invite only about 500 students who secured housing because of extenuating circumstances.
Adjusting to the beginning of the school year and the beginning of college, which can already be a difficult process, has been especially hard this fall in a virtual learning environment, according to Hannah Ajibola (NHS ’24).
“Something that has personally been difficult for me is the fact that we are not physically going to classes. It just makes the day drag on,” Ajibola said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “It feels like I’m doing the same thing: Zoom, online class, homework online, just always looking at a screen. It can be hard to balance home and school life because I still have home responsibilities too.”
Ajibola, who is currently living with her family in Bethesda, Md., must also navigate taking classes from the room she shares with her sister, who is also calling into college classes from home.
While peers, faculty and teaching assistants have been supportive of first-year students, some feel support from administrators is lacking. The communication students do receive from university officials can come off as impersonal and leave students feeling unsupported and isolated from the Georgetown community, according to Lara Santana (SFS ’24).
“We are students for them, but I think sometimes they don’t realize that we’re people,” Santana said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “We have personal lives, and we sit on Zoom for countless hours and just do work. We need their support, and we need guidance for all the resources that are supposedly out there, but we have not been told about.”
Professors and teaching assistants understand the challenges students face and have made an extra effort to reach out to students, according to Kenny Boggess (SFS ’24).
“Professors have all been very good about being there as support networks and getting to know us outside of the academic setting. My TAs have been good too,” Boggess said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “I just moved out of my house, but my philosophy TA was very good, like, ‘If you need anything I will meet you outside of class time to catch you up personally.’”
Besides academic concerns, studying at home has also precluded students from bonding with classmates and peers, according to Ajibola. She expected study groups to emerge organically and for relationships to grow from there.
“But in the online format, you have to really put yourself out there more because if you don’t outright say ‘Oh, can I get your number?’ or ‘Let’s talk about this’ or directly schedule something on Zoom, then you’re just not going to do it,” Ajibola said.
Despite the difficulties of developing relationships in their classes, many first-year students have taken advantage of social media, joining campus clubs or organizing socially distanced meetups with other students who live in their area. Ajibola shared that students from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the surrounding areas are organizing a group gathering sometime in October.
Social media and other communication networks have been crucial to maintaining some semblance of social life, according to Boggess.
“It’s relatively easy to find time to hang out in a park or something with distance and masks, but I’ve definitely been getting social time in,” Boggess said. “It is absolutely necessary, and I would quite frankly go haywire without it.”