Freshmen look back at year marked by COVID-19

Freshman graphic design major Dayna Balough talks to freshman Aanchal Dubey while sitting on a bench. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer

First-year student Aanchal Dubey wasn’t expecting her introduction to college life to go very well due to the COVID-19 pandemic isolating her from fellow students. But she says it went better than expected.

“I expected it to be a lot worse during COVID,” Dubey said. “But I made a lot of good friends here during my first year.”

VCU’s class of 2024 entered college as COVID-19 cases among college students were rising. VCU has reported more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases among students and employees as of May 4, according to the university’s fall and spring COVID-19 dashboards. 

Dubey, who is undecided but on a predental track, said she regrets that she wasn’t able to make more friends.

“I wanted to meet a lot more people, especially in informal settings,” Dubey said. “It’s really hard to meet people who don’t live in your dorm, especially in the colder months, because you can’t go outside.”

Dayna Balough, a graphic design major, said she struggled the most with asynchronous online classes, though she says none of her classes were overly difficult. Attending classes while sitting outside made her feel better, she said.

“I feel that if asynchronous classes hadn’t happened, I would’ve had a better experience,” Balough said. “In person is just so much better than online.”

Balough said it was difficult to meet people in her residence hall, Cary and Belvidere, because most people stayed in their own apartments. 

Many on-campus students lived in residence halls, where COVID-19 restrictions limited the amount of guests a student could have in their dorms. Students could host one guest who lived in the same residence hall and could not invite outside guests. Students also had to socially distance, wear a face mask in common areas and clean shared spaces before and after use.

Freshman Veda Parvathaneni said she was happy to be on campus this semester. Though she made a lot of friends and found VCU a welcoming environment, she said she wishes she could have gone out more and eaten at restaurants in the city. 

Freshman public relations major Jackson Amirshahi sits on a blanket in Monroe Park with friends. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Parvathaneni lives in Gladding Residence Center, a popular freshman dorm located next to Monroe Park.

“I was surprised by how independent it was,” said Parvathaneni. “It was like an apartment, almost, always being by yourself.”

Parvathaneni said she had one in-person class last semester, but the rest were online. The biology major said she doesn’t find online classes interesting. Parvathaneni said it’s difficult for her to stay engaged but began talking in the Zoom chat during classes to connect with classmates.

“I learned to organize myself better,” Parvathaneni said. “That’s the main thing.”

Freshman public relations major Jackson Amirshahi took all his classes online this semester but has lived on campus this semester. He lives in GRC and said the campus environment helps him be more productive than he could be at home. Amirshahi’s residence hall is located across the street from Monroe Park, where he goes to socialize with friends. 

“I’ve been able to see a lot of my friends, and go outside and hang out mainly, because they are strict about how many people you can have in the dorms,” Amirshahi said. “It’s been kind of a learning experience, what you can do and not do.”

Some freshmen chose to stay at home for the academic year since many classes remained online even after the university opened some in-person options on March 4. The online modality made it possible for many students to attend all of their courses remotely. 

Freshman criminal justice major William Clark’s family lives 20 minutes away from VCU’s campus. Instead of dealing with the COVID-19 restrictions and cost of living in on-campus housing, he decided to stay home for the semester. However, Clark still travels to campus to do work in academic buildings. He had one in-person class this semester.

“I would say it’s pretty convenient because if something ever came up, my family’s right there,” Clark said. 

Clark said because he wasn’t on campus often, he never learned how to use library resources, such as the printers. He prefers to work in the less-crowded Academic Learning Commons. 

“It has been difficult,” Clark said. “It’s mainly about finding the right space to work in, and the right resources.” 

Clark said his family has been supportive of his decision to live at home for now. 

“They know that before the end of my four years of college, I’m going to try moving out into an apartment,” Clark said. “But at the moment, they’re fine with what we’re doing.”

According to VCU’s website, the fall 2021 semester will have a “substantially higher percentage of in-person classes” than spring 2021 but will still have some hybrid and online classes. Campus facilities such as libraries, the University Student Commons and VCU dining facilities will open with more capacity.

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