For new students, campus life will appear vibrant as Westminster operates at full capacity again, sports games resume and art performances populate calendars this fall. Yet for many returning students, the scene is simply the revival of long-awaited college traditions and experiences thwarted by COVID-19.
“The thing I missed the most [about Westminster during the pandemic last year] was our buzzing campus,” said senior justice studies major Jordan McFeely. “There were fewer people on campus [this year] and I missed being able to say hello to friends and professors.”
Greeting friends and faculty between classes, visiting professors during office hours and sharing a meal in Shaw Student Center were just some of the staples of Westminster’s close-knit community that went missing-in-action for the 2020-2021 academic year. The college plans to return to in-person classes and make face coverings required in all shared, indoor spaces on campus regardless of vaccination status this Fall, according to Westminster’s COVID-19 Resources webpage.
The decision marks the beginning of transitioning out of the pandemic for sophomore international relations major Kelsey Smith.
“I am excited to have a sense of normalcy on campus; fewer masks to see on people, more freedom to interact with friends, and go to events without worrying,” Smith said.
As an out-of-state student, Smith said she is looking forward to seeing more of what Salt Lake City has to offer.
“[My friends and I] loved hiking, hammocking, rock climbing, and thrifting around the city. I think my time will be spent much the same, but checking out new restaurants and shops now that it feels safer,” Smith said.
Mcfeely, who is from Seattle, Washington, said she shares the same sentiment, especially during her last year at Westminster.
“I’m always taking suggestions on new things to try and do in Utah. So in my last year, I hope to find more new things to experience,” McFeely said.
Sophomore neuroscience major Remi Lindberg is more familiar with Utah. She said she spent much of her free time outdoors, surrounded by the Sugar House community.
“I found that hiking in the cold or the heat was a great way to get outside of campus and pass time,” Lindberg said. “I would recommend grocery shopping with friends, walking around Barnes and Noble, and frolicking around random stores.”
The reintroduction for campus life provides a deeper sense of school spirit than the year before, according to Lindberg.
“I’m hoping to experience going to more sports games to support my friends that play for the school,” Lindberg said. “I’m also looking forward to […] social activities that are in-person and do not take place on Zoom.”
Campus events throughout the year would normally open the door for students to get involved and feel at home during college. However, the 2020-2021 academic year was far from normal.
While Zoom and social distancing events were a safe alternative to learning and fostering community during the pandemic, the protocols influenced the whole experience of an activity, Lindberg said.
Smith said her job planning campus-wide events for the Dumke Center for Civic Engagement gave her a different perspective to finding her place in Westminster’s community.
“I met so many more friends through my work than I would have otherwise,” Smith said, “[and] working on campus my first year helped me feel a stronger part of the community much quicker, especially […] amid the pandemic,” Smith said.
As more people receive the COVID vaccine, pandemic restrictions have started to lift around the country and in Salt Lake City. Lindberg works at a restaurant off campus, and said she feels comfortable interacting with people as vaccination rates increase.
“I think more people are going out and doing more than they would have a year ago, which I thought I would be nervous about, but it has been quite comforting to feel like progress is being made,” Lindberg said.
Transitioning to a school year that promises more freedom will require adjustment from incoming first years and returning students alike. Having both social life and mental health well-maintained, McFeely said, helps academic performance in the end– and Smith agrees.
“My advice to incoming students would be to understand that academics is only a part of the college journey. Finding the right people who share your same passions, interests, or work ethic in turn supports your academic aspirations,” Smith said. “I think it’s so important to recognize that both hold a significant place in making college a positive and fun experience.”