Beginning college is exciting, scary, and this year, strange. Again. While last year we started the fall 2020 semester social distancing, wearing masks and attending hybrid classes, the beginning of this semester looks very similar.
While the majority of classes are in person, students are still wearing masks. Marquette University announced June 7 that it would be requiring undergraduate, graduate and professional students returning to campus for the 2021-2022 school year to be fully vaccinated, as well as requiring masks in indoor spaces in an Aug. 16 news release.
The university’s decision was made after the Delta variant began surging in Milwaukee and other cities throughout the U.S. earlier this month. For example, in Wisconsin, COVID-19 cases averaged 150 per day around July 15, but about a month later it averaged nearly 1,400 cases per day. This rise in COVID-19 cases sparked some challenges again with resuming school this fall. The safest way that we can all be together on campus is to protect ourselves and other students, faculty and staff; the best way to keep one another safe is to wear our masks, wash our hands and get vaccinated.
Having more classes in person this year is exciting, but it is also a privilege that comes with the responsibility of taking precautions. Although this is the safest and smartest decision for us, it is still weird to meet students for the first time not being able to see people’s faces.
Just as social distancing can make us feel isolated, masks have had the same effect. It can be seen as unnatural to communicate with somebody when you are both wearing masks. A survey of 460 participants conducted by the University of Manchester showed 60% of people felt they communicated differently when they wore a mask because it may have impeded their ability to hear, understand and connect with others. However, it is important to remember that our safety must be prioritized. According to the Milwaukee Health Department, Milwaukee had 470 new COVID-19 cases as of Aug. 27.
Even in normal times, the beginning of a new school year can be intimidating, especially if students are entering their first year at Marquette. Being the “new kid” takes on a whole new meaning when that entails leaving your family, enduring the trials of creating new friendships and being placed in challenging classes. The pressures of academic and social life takes a toll, and according to the American Psychological Association, about 41.6% of college students experience anxiety.
Although intimidating, the return to classes seems to symbolize the beginning of a more genuine college experience for students, as well as a better opportunity to meet more people. Before the pandemic, it may have seemed easy to underestimate the power that a group of eager students and a professor could have in one room, but productivity is much higher in this case. Students’ completion rates of in-person classes are nearly five times higher than remote learning, according to Headspace, an online company and app that provides exercises to improve mental health.
In other good news, nearly 92% of Marquette students who are enrolled for the fall 2021 semester have submitted proof of COVID-19 vaccination, which makes it more possible to have in-person classes and extracurricular activities.
The one thing new students can take solace in is that everyone is experiencing this big life change together. While some students may come from nearby states like Illinois and Michigan and others come from opposite ends of the world like China, Italy and India, we are all connected in that way.
In order to help foster students’ passion and creativity, Marquette offers a wide variety of club and intramural sports, student employment opportunities and clubs. These include student government, service organizations and Greek life, among nearly 300 others. All of these organizations help to make the transition back to school more exciting than scary.
College is one of the most exciting and formative times in all of our lives. As we move forward this year in a still very strange time, we can do our best to stay safe while making the most of our college experience.
This story was written by Grace Cady. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org