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First-year students reflect: how COVID-19 affects ability to meet new people

Westminster College’s well-known Black Bridge serves as a place for conversation Jan. 2018. In the COVID-19 pandemic, students said socializing on campus is more difficult than they expected. (File photo courtesy of the Westminster Coaching and Mentoring Program)

For several at Westminster College, it’s a familiar sight: The Shaw Student Center is bustling with activity as friends gather at tables to eat breakfast. Richer Commons is flooded with people walking and sitting to drink a cup of coffee before their first class. 

Occasionally, it’s common to see local neighborhood residents strolling through campus with their dogs for a quick walk. 

However, this year is a bit different. 

Before walking through the once-lively lines in Shaw, students must secure their face masks and follow the arrows placed on the ground. Once outside, many distance their chairs six feet away from each other before taking a seat. 

As the new school year begins, college campuses across the country are meeting both in-person and solely online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has caused a rift between what former students remember as their favorite college memories and what new first-year students will recall for theirs. 

Forum reporter Lauren Shoughro sat down with four first-year students at Westminster to share their experiences of how COVID-19 has affected their ability to make friends during the first two weeks of school. 

While the pandemic has made things more difficult, several students said they had both positive and negative experiences with the start of college — finding scattered opportunities to interact with other students on campus. 

Athena Comeau, first-year business major

Q: What brought you to Westminster?

A: I chose Westminster for the all-around small school [feel] so it’s easier for me to get in contact with teachers because I’m a competitive snowboarder and traveler around the world. Plus the riding here is really awesome.

Q: How have the first two weeks of school been?

A:  Dorm life is fun. It does stink about all the COVID rules, but it’s still a really fun time.

Q: How would you say your opportunities to make friends have been?

A: It’s really hard to meet new people and not be able to get into their dorms and formally introduce yourself to them. But I can work my way around it. 

Q: How would you say COVID-19 has affected you personally?

A: Personally, it’s been pretty rough for me especially since I’m a very touchy and interactive type of person. It’s hard to get in contact with people face-to-face. 

Q: How about your academics?

A: I am not the best online student, so it’s been kind of a struggle to do classes virtually. But I’m getting the hang of it. 

Q: What do you think the school can do to help you make friends?

A:  It would be really cool if you live in a dorm to let people from the same floor go into each other’s rooms since the apartment-style students can go into their rooms but we can’t. 

Jaxen Wigger, first-year business major

Q: What brought you to Westminster?

A: I’m on the lacrosse team and it’s just a perfect spot because I love to ski also. And it’s not too far from home.

Q: How have the first two weeks of school been?

A: It’s nice being able to get out of the house and be on my own, I enjoy it a lot. 

Q: How would you say your opportunities to make friends have been?

A: It’s been all right. Since I’m on the lacrosse team it helps a lot, but not being able to interact completely with everybody else, it’s been a little hard. 

Q: How would you say COVID-19 has affected you personally?

A: Sports, it canceled my lacrosse season. School is just a little different, especially being all online — going from all day every day in person, to all online. And at home in Portland, it’s kind of a mess. 

Q: What about affecting your academics?

A: Lowkey, it’s helped them because I’m just more on my own time and online classes are more lenient with due dates and you have all day to do stuff. 

Q: What do you think the school can do to help you make friends?

A: Maybe [adding] some stuff on social media. Since we can’t interact person-to-person, you might as well interact over the phone. 

Jacob Pickett, first-year business major

Q: What brought you to Westminster? 

A: Probably because I fell in love with Utah when I first visited

Q: How have the first two weeks been?

A: They’ve been great; I’ve actually had a lot of fun. I got to really explore Utah, and since I’ve really only been in Oregon, I thought that was a really good experience.

Q: How would you say your opportunities to make friends have been?

A:  I’ve actually made a lot of friends just kind of going to classes and hanging out — but especially during the orientation, I got to meet a lot of new people.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your academics?

A: They’ve been really good. It’s weird over Zoom, but having some classes in person has helped out quite a bit.

Q: Is there anything you want to say to the student body about how you’re feeling?

A: Just keep doing your thing, try to keep us all safe.

Q: What do you think the school can do to be better at helping students become more engaged in the school community?

A: I think just definitely hear people out with their concerns and problems and try to find a way to bridge the gap between the two and try to make the college experience as best you can during this time. 

Q: What do you think the school can do to help students make friends?

A: I would say try to organize something outside that everyone can do, like maybe a spikeball tournament. 

Tea Kazitova, first-year neuroscience major

Q: What brought you to Westminster?

A: I like that it is a small school because I felt like if I went to a really big school I’d just drift away, and if I were to start skipping classes nobody would notice. So, I thought people would really focus on me and that would be nice.

Q: How have the first two weeks of school been?

A: It’s been pretty good. I love all my classes and my teachers have been really nice, so it’s a good school.

Q: How would you say your opportunities to make friends have been?

A: Pretty good, in the first week when you get those programs and everything, you get to know a lot of people. 

Q: How would you say COVID-19 has affected your academics?

A: Zoom is a little funky. I’m not one for online school because I get distracted a lot. 

Q: What do you think the school can do to be better at helping students become more engaged in the school community?

A:  The library should definitely be open for longer because then there’s more spaces to work. Also for dorms, there are a couple odd rules. For example, we already live together, but we can’t go into the laundry room at the same time, or we’ll get written up.  

Q: What do you think the school can do to help students make friends?

A: I feel like just having opportunities like groups or events where people can start talking to each other would be nice because with COVID we feel like we are shut into our rooms and our online classes so we don’t get to interact with people as much. 

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Lauren Shoughro
Lauren Shoughro is a junior communication major at Westminster College. She specializes in visual communication in media with a focus on graphic design, video production and public speaking. When she isn’t editing, you can find her on Dumke Field playing for Westminster’s Women’s lacrosse team. She is excited to bring her own flare to The Forum’s newspaper and website.

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