Last week, Montclair State University became one of the few institutions in the state to announce a fully in-person start to the semester, with additional precautions set in place to protect students against the raging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In addition to the controversy caused by this decision, in order to return to campus as a resident, you must be tested for the virus on Jan. 12 or after, and the results must be negative or you cannot move in. The egregious part of the policy was the late notice — students weren’t notified about this mandate until Jan. 9.
While I agree that the university’s communication in terms of their move-in policy for residents was nothing short of inappropriate considering the nationwide shortage of tests, I stand by their decision to continue to offer an in-person learning experience.
Some may prefer virtual classes, but I know many of my friends struggled to adjust to Zoom classes last school year, especially in courses that are reliant on in-person learning. Even if your classes are primarily hands-off and more lecture-based, it can be tough to stay entirely focused on a three-hour lecture course when it’s on a computer screen.
An important part of college is networking and building relationships for the future. Building relationships with students or professors through a computer screen isn’t ideal due to the awkward nature of virtual schooling. Students tend to have their cameras off and are hesitant to participate in class discussions, and conversations with other students and professors feel less genuine with the barrier of a laptop between everyone.
Virtual learning also took away from my college experience as a resident. With most classes being online, many of my friends opted to live at home, particularly in the fall. There were restrictions on how many guests you could have in your dorm or apartment. Meeting up with friends to grab food wasn’t as accessible, with many dining hall locations either being closed or only having limited hours last year. Many of the university’s flagship events were virtual, including homecoming.
While I do understand these restrictions were necessary, sometimes they became overbearing. There was a time where you couldn’t even leave campus without a waiver, something I believe was a major overstep by the university.
In the fall 2021 semester, seeing the way campus roared back to life was nothing short of amazing. On most days the quad was packed, with people hanging out or studying. My friends and I were able to grab a bite to eat at our favorite dining locations again.
I hung out with friends that I hadn’t seen in nearly two years. Homecoming was back, organizations were hosting in-person events on campus more frequently and classes were back in person.
Dare I say, it seemed like campus life was normal again.
Remarkably, despite the fall semester being a mostly normal experience, Montclair State’s COVID-19 cases remained fairly low during this time, except for a spike in cases during finals season. It’s proof that not only does the vaccine work (94% of the university population is vaccinated), but we can still have the college experience that we all yearn for if we follow state and local health guidelines.
I do realize the omicron variant is more contagious, although reportedly less severe than previous variants. The fears of many students are valid, considering how high the cases are right now. However, the key difference this time around is that we have more weapons at our disposal to fight this variant. From vaccine boosters to masks and social distancing, we are at a much different stage in the COVID-19 pandemic than before.
If you’re boosted, wearing your mask on campus and social distancing when necessary, your chances of getting severely sick or hospitalized from COVID-19 aren’t completely eliminated but are significantly reduced.
To be honest, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. This doesn’t mean we should let our guard down and ignore local health guidelines, however. It means we need to come to a compromise and adjust to a “new normal.”
It would be a shame if we had to be online for a few weeks and transition back to in-person right away, which was a big challenge for some underclassmen students in the fall who have never experienced a normal college semester.
While Montclair State’s decisions regarding COVID-19 have been extremely questionable at times, I think they made the right call on this one. We pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend this institution, so let’s at least get our money’s worth and experience college as it’s meant to be.