The first month back on campus for many of us at Montclair State University has had its share of triumphs, trials and tribulations. While many things have changed significantly, much of campus life feels familiar.
This year, instead of settling into a couch, computer chair or comfortable section of the bed for another Zoom semester, students geared up to return to Montclair State’s campus. For many people, physically being here is the best part of the return to in-person learning.
The feeling of a fresh start the fall semester brings is truly enhanced by the beautiful scenery on campus. Leaves erupt into stunning displays of flame and ember before dropping to the ground in a pleasantly crunchy blanket. Morning students feel the breeze on their faces and hear the birds greeting the new day, while afternoon students soak up the mild autumn sunshine and latecomers bask in the chilled hush of nightfall.
Maybe it’s because we all know it won’t be warm for much longer, or because it feels like a proper semester this time, but this fall seems especially welcome for many people.
Others are happy to be surrounded by friends and classmates again. The simple comfort of being close — but not too close, of course — to people seems hard to appreciate after a while, but when you’ve been deprived of it for so long, it’s surprisingly reassuring. Even if you prefer limiting your socializing to small doses, the relief of seeing people other than the ones you’ve been stuck inside with for over a year is unmistakable.
Some of the more physically involved programs, such as dance and theatre, are especially difficult to facilitate over Zoom. For those students, the joy of inhabiting a performance space feels right. Being in an environment conducive to our work and relationships is vital for the rest of us, too. The energy on Montclair State’s campus, the vivacity of student activities and the laughter in the air is proof of this.
Of course, being back on campus has its downsides. No doubt many of us didn’t exactly miss the stress and cost of commuting, or the inevitabilities of long lines and worsening traffic. Then there’s the most obvious obstacle: the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is far from over.
Perhaps no other set of issues has divided the Montclair State community quite as much as those brought up by COVID-19. While most people are happy to be back, anxieties persist over infection rates, weekly testing, masks and vaccines. Some insist due to the pandemic, Montclair State should have continued to offer as many remote learning options as it did before the return to campus became more certain.
Are we trying too hard to pretend everything is normal? Maybe, but most people are all too aware of the risks we still face to be overly lax about COVID-19. There is seemingly no singular way to move forward in these circumstances, except with caution and measured optimism.
What feels right for some may feel too rushed or not fast enough for others. With that in mind, it’s important everyone’s best interests be accounted for. Students and professors have raised issues that should be addressed and actively listened to. Administrators have shown they are willing to enable change, and this needs to continue if we all are to make the best of the current situation.
One month in, many people seem overall glad to be back on campus. Moods are high and the weather is fair, for the moment. Whether or not disenchantment sets in depends on how well students are heard and cared for, by professors, by Montclair State and by each other.