With the anticipation of a fall semester full of changes, many students and faculty had different expectations of how the semester would turn out.
Last spring, the pandemic abruptly halted all in-person activities on campus and completely changed how we interact with those around us. When Northwestern reopened this fall, students, faculty and staff had a new set of rules to follow, which included wearing masks in all buildings on campus except in one’s own resident hall, creating six feet of distance in all areas possible, extending cafeteria hours and prohibiting self-serve, moving chapel and other large events to the Rowenhorst Student Center four-court area to incorporate more seating, and limiting fans at athletic events.
As students returned to campus knowing these restrictions, there was a lot of anxiety in wondering if NW could still provide their valued community that students love.
Freshmen have nothing to compare. This is their first semester at college, and many bring a sense of positivity and optimism to campus.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. I haven’t experienced a pandemic-free college year yet,” said freshman Luke Haverdink. “The only worry I had was that I wasn’t going to be prepared to go back to school since I haven’t been in a physical classroom since early March, but so far, I’m having a ton of fun.”
Upperclassmen know different. They recognize the changes being made and some feel anxious about how the precautions will affect their college life. With the first few weeks of classes complete, they’re starting to adjust.
“To me, all the safety changes seemed inevitable if we were to have class on-campus this fall,” said senior Jason Van Dyke. “The masks, distancing and sanitizing protocols all seem fitting and well thought out, and they’re actually not as intrusive to my normal life as I first thought they would be when they were announced.”
Even with masks being required in the classroom, students don’t see an effect on their learning or productivity. In extracurricular activities, however, there have been some changes that have taken longer to get used to.
“Volleyball practices have been changed as we can only do a drill for 15 minutes or less,” said senior Jessica Mouw. “We have not had any games yet, so I’m unsure what other changes there might be.”
Athletes aren’t the only ones seeing changes to their routines. New guidelines also apply to the arts.
“It has been great to be back and singing in choir with friends,” said senior Joel Van Peursem. “Wearing a mask is not bad at all if we can still keep making music in person.”
For resident directors and assistants, dorm life has looked a bit different this fall. They were very motivated coming into the semester but understood that their jobs would require flexibility.
“We needed to figure out a way to provide a meaningful residence life experience for students,” said Hospers resident director Michael Simmelink. “Most of Hospers’ first semester events can carry on with normalcy and slight adjustments. Coffeehouse will be postponed to the spring semester.”
Overall, most students aren’t worried for their own physical health, but they want to protect those who are more compromised. Most students and faculty have high expectations of staying on campus all semester.
“I trust our students don’t want to spend another six months at their parents’ house,” Simmelink said. “There’s a motivation there I can believe in. If this goes online, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
While the changes were significant this fall, professors felt prepared by the NW administration for the changes to instructional delivery.
“Our required summer course revisions to prepare for some quarantined students showed great foresight and follow-through by our vice president of academic affairs and deans, so those adjustments were already in place at the start of classes,” said Dr. Thomas Holm, music department chair.
Professors say the transition was easier than expected.
“Spending time this summer on classes to make them adaptable to move online or accessible virtually for students in quarantine was not at all difficult, though it was time consuming,” said Dr. Rebecca Koerselman, associate professor of history education.
Overall, NW has done well at still providing their beloved community.
“I think our policies so far have been strict enough to ensure campus takes them seriously, but not so strict that we miss out on crucial elements of the campus community,” said senior Schuyler Sterk.
One thing has become clear to Derek Brower, associate professor of education: It’s important for everyone to do their part.
“We want to be here on campus,” he said. “So let’s be responsible Raiders and make it work.”