Life on campus is what you make of it, even during pandemic

WSU’s Residence Life provided students with opportunities to engage safely during COVID-19, but choice to attend is up to students

Though+we+may+feel+stuck+in+our+dorms+and+residence+halls%2C+RAs+and+administrators+are+working+hard+to+help+us+feel+connected.

KESTRA ENGSTROM

Though we may feel stuck in our dorms and residence halls, RAs and administrators are working hard to help us feel connected.

KESTRA ENGSTROM, Evergreen columnist

Ever since our lives were interrupted by COVID-19 over a year ago, it feels like there is so much out of our control.

From our health to our finances to our academics, much of the past year has been what seems like an unpredictable waiting game. The game is even more intense when you are not sure exactly what you are waiting for.

This was the case for every fresh-faced first-year student at WSU when they entered college in the midst of the pandemic at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

With no “normal” frame of reference for what to expect from their first year of college, many new students — including myself — began their college experience at home. This tragically led to few opportunities to establish the social support networks that have propelled students through their college years for generations.

When the chance to move on-campus for the upcoming spring semester arrived last fall, I jumped at it. I wanted that quintessential dorm experience, even if it would be different from a normal freshman’s, and I was desperate for that first taste of independence that had been delayed by the pandemic.

Maddie Rogstad, incoming sophomore political science major, was in a similar situation. She had opted to stay at home with her family for her first semester in the fall of 2020 and moved into WSU’s residence halls the following spring.

“I wanted to experience dorm life while I could, since I belong to Greek life and would be moving in the house my sophomore year,” Rogstad said.

Olivia Willis, incoming senior pursuing dual degrees in neuroscience and psychology, worked as a resident adviser during the 2020-2021 school year. According to Willis, many freshmen had this same reasoning.

“First semester we were way under capacity, we probably had like a quarter of what we usually had, and then second semester it was like half of we would usually have, maybe a little bit over that,” she said. “But some of the other halls had a lot less.”

Willis said that most of the residents were freshmen — many of whom were likely hoping to experience the dorms while they could, like Rogstad.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the RAs and WSU Housing and Residence Life worked hard to create an immersive experience on campus.

“We did a lot of movie nights where everyone could hop on and watch movies together, we did different game nights … all different sorts of virtual stuff was going on,” Willis said. “As soon as we got cleared to do in-person stuff with a lower number of people we had outdoor movie nights where we would get a projector and a screen and play some movies and get food.”

However, as is often the case in an online environment, there were many unavoidable limitations to these activities — namely, the ability to truly connect online or at a limited in-person event can be very difficult.

“The offered activities were only entertaining to so many people and social lives require more than online activities,” Rogstad said.

Willis concurred. She hoped that there would be more engagement from residents, whether it be Residence Life making more of an effort to work with students for ideas on interesting programmings, or other ways to increase attendance.

“I think [WSU] could probably find a way to get residents and students more engaged … it was really tough for everybody, but I think there could’ve been more engagement,” Willis said.

Even if residence hall staff could have done more for students to keep them engaged and boost attendance, there were certainly plenty of opportunities and activities for students to get involved with.

At the end of the day, most of your first-year experience truly comes down to your own choices — even in the midst of a pandemic. It can be difficult to find and cultivate relationships in an online environment, but it is far from impossible.

WSU and Residence Life did the best job they could have, providing students with chances to find friendships in an online environment, but the choice was yours to attend and prioritize that aspect of living on campus.

As 2020’s freshmen prep for their second year and hope for a more open experience, 2021’s freshmen are preparing to come in without an idea of what their year will look like.

Even if they can not predict the outcomes of their freshman experience, they have infinite choices they get to make that will shape it.

“The biggest advice I have [for incoming students] is to take initiative yourself,” Willis said. “When things are in person, it’s really easy. When it’s online, you have to take the initiative to attend and log into your Zoom. The residents who did that had a lot more fun and were a lot better off than the ones who sat in their rooms and didn’t engage and didn’t go to any events or programs.”

Rogstad agrees, saying that there are multiple aspects of college life in the dorms that contribute to the “full” freshman experience.

“It can be an overwhelming challenge to make new friends in a new environment, especially without a roommate. Balancing a healthy schedule and academics is important, but it’s also important to include time in your week to get outside and talk to or meet up with new people,” Rogstad said.

We are all in this together, and 2021’s incoming freshmen have a ton of students behind them who know what they are about to go through and want them to succeed.

The choice to reach out, make friends and make your freshman experience on campus a positive one is yours — even in the age of COVID-19.