Masked up and six feet apart, Elle Peterson and her fellow freshmen residents on her floor of Ellsworth Residence Hall gather in their common space. Their resident assistant has organized different icebreakers for the residents to get to know each other better.
Despite the semester’s differences, Peterson, a freshman studying strategic communications from Olathe, says she tried her best to make the first few weeks feel as normal as possible.
“I would say [living in housing] is different than I imagined,” Peterson says. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of the girls on my floor though. We hang out a lot of the time, but we can’t really do much outside of the dorm.”
Many of the University of Kansas’ freshmen concluded their senior year of high school in an unexpected way — an immediate halt, followed by many of their graduations being held virtually. The series of events continues as they start their first semester of college during a global pandemic.
With Douglas County’s COVID-19 cases rising daily, freshmen’s first semester of college comes with meeting their professors via video chat and socializing with their peers in breakout rooms.
“I was definitely a little anxious going into online classes because I knew they were going to be a little more difficult than the ones in high school,” Peterson says.
Josh Navarro, a freshman studying political science from Hutchinson, says he is worried about how well he will retain some of the information from the lectures taught online. He is even more worried about all the students’ safety on campus.
“I think [KU] has done well with dealing with [the pandemic],” Navarro says. “They’ve done a good job at trying to have all the students follow and comply with the rules.”
Although KU anticipated an 8 to 10% drop in enrollment prior to the fall semester, Navarro says he never thought of taking a year off.
“I tried really hard to get scholarships for this year,” Navarro says. “I also qualified for the KU Pell Advantage, which was a big deal for me coming from a lower income family.”
Navarro’s living situation has also been different than previously expected. Living in a scholarship hall, Navarro says he feels a lack of the community aspect that usually comes with the halls. Scholarship halls usually have an open kitchen where residents cook and eat together, but with COVID-19, the kitchens have closed due to safety concerns.
“My expectation was to be in a community-based environment with the scholarship halls,” Navarro says. “This year, with no social events and no eating in the kitchens, it’s just not as community-oriented as I had expected it to be.”
Navarro, however, added that he understands why housing has put these mandates in place.
Along with housing and classes, extracurricular activities and groups look vastly different for new students than previous years.
Like many incoming freshmen, Peterson decided to join a Greek life organization on campus. Potential new members received an email two weeks ahead of recruitment letting them know it would be held exclusively online this year.
“The main thing I was disappointed about was us not having an in-person bid day,” Peterson says. “It makes total sense as to why the chancellor didn’t let us have one but that was the main thing I was looking forward to.”
Peterson says she appreciates the independence that comes with college-life. If classes were held remotely, most freshmen would have to go back home.
“To me, it’s still fun to be on my own and to be in Lawrence. I’m still having somewhat of a normal experience just being here,” Peterson says.
Even with the difficulties that may come with remote learning and having to social distance, Navarro and Peterson both say they are hopeful for their first semesters of college.
“I know the pandemic won’t last forever,” Navarro says. “This is just how it is for now, and I know everything will be okay in the future.”