Being back on campus for the first extended period of time in five months has brought about more feelings than I could have ever fathomed. When we left for Spring Break in March, life felt normal. For the most part. I was en route to fly to Colorado, my family reminding me to take extra hand sanitizer and wipes on the plane with me – newscasts about COVID-19 cases popping up internationally had just begun making the rounds here. That one week of break, though, really shifted tones. One week of fun was capped off with more newscasts – this time cases had become domestic. Suddenly we were receiving emails from the school and texts from our friends. My school just closed for the rest of the semester. What’s your school doing? Spring Break changed. It morphed into something infused with tones of fear and dialogues of needing to pack everything up as fast as possible (lest you have to schedule for a future move-out date).
It wasn’t all bad, though. On the way to pack up what I had left in my dorm room, I stopped and got sushi for my roommate and I. We had one last meal together – like an indoor picnic, perfect for the start of Spring – while we packed, food on our desks, me standing on the bed trying to get decorations off our walls, her filling a giant paper bag with dozens of books.
Leaving, in a way, felt like a celebration, like a memory fading to nostalgia as it was happening.
In those days where everyone was moving out, friends met in their shared halls and hugged as if for the last time. And some of those hugs truly were for the last time. The last waves. The last “see you laters.” That’s in part because some of those students were seniors. Those lasts really were lasts. The rest of us were just having fun, saying early goodbyes to our roommates we were already planning on living with the following year and professors we would certainly be seeing the next semester (not to mention on Zoom the very next week.
Who could have imagined that those silly waves and hugs weren’t so silly after all? Who could have said six months ago that when we came back to campus, we still wouldn’t be able to hug all of our friends (unless you managed a good and proper air hug from the mandated six feet away) like we couldn’t in the months away? Who could have predicted that some of your friends and classmates wouldn’t come back to campus at all?
It’s weird being back. It’s weird knowing that the bittersweet end to last semester was brighter than aspects of this semester.
Classes were moved online and we were moved home. The two worlds students get to know in their years here were suddenly less compartmentalized than we are accustomed to. I feel very strongly, though, that combining home and school was easier than being at school now – our place of freedom, of growth – with the restrictions that have been put in place.
When I was at home taking classes from my couch, it was extremely evident that I couldn’t walk outside and hang out with my school friends. It wasn’t rules that had to remind me of that. It was the 250 miles separating me from them. I knew I couldn’t freely wander into the Lakeview and Witherspoon rooms for an event. There were no events happening.
Now? The thing stopping us from casually hanging out with friends or attending campus events is fear. Not fear of getting sick (that happens anyway. The “Westminster Plague” ring a bell?), but fear of getting in trouble.
Coming back to campus is not laden with the excitement of a new school year or the sparkling nostalgia that we left with. No, coming back is something scary. It’s something frustrating because every action that we could possibly do in a normal year has an asterisk next to it that says if we don’t tiptoe past every person of authority and abide by the dozens of new rules, we will get written up and fined. Perfectly studious and outgoing students are being sent through the judicial process because they forgot they couldn’t visit a friend who lives on a different floor of the same building as them. We are being written up for forgetting a piece of fabric in our rooms and not remembering until we are too far down the stairs. We are being written up for using a different shower in the morning because someone is in our assigned one and we’re about to be late for class. We are being written up because sometimes we have to go home during a weekend to take care of our families rather than observe a “no off-campus travel” declaration.
Westminster has always prided itself on being a place of strong and uplifting community. That’s a huge aspect of why I chose to come to Westminster four years ago. But the community is torn now. I feel severance between myself and the administrators I have praised and depended upon for years. I feel like I have a target on my back, as though someone is looking for me to mess up so that I can be punished, because they chose for us to return to campus in the middle of a pandemic.
Coming back to campus is supposed to be something filled with excited jitters, eager students, exuberant professors. That hasn’t been what this semester has seen at all. Instead, I’m filled with frustration at the lack of communication between administrators and students, sadness for the overlooked families of students, timidity toward the consequences of forgetting this is not a normal school year.
We’re back, whatever that means, for as long as we can be. We’ll be safe. We’ll follow the rules.
We came back. But we’re not really here.