Will College Ever Be the Same?


I know there are so many people, myself included, that grew up idolizing higher education, particularly the undergraduate experience. Both of my parents were privileged enough to pursue college degrees. Because of the memories and experiences they have shared with me, I looked forward to college my entire life. Of course, this has been a complex year to start the venture. From the political upheaval that followed the election to the emotional chaos that occurred due to the pandemic, this year does not represent how college has been for decades, and it’s certainly not what I was raised to look forward to.

I hope most first-year students have still made friends and attended some classes normally, but the normal ways that students are supposed to develop relationships and study skills in college have changed. How will this class of freshmen teach the college experience to those who follow? I have not attended any sporting events, parties or even casual events with strangers. I have found a bubble of people who I know will be safe and have not left it. Once people are widely vaccinated and it is safe to attend these such events, most of the people who experienced college as it’s meant to be will be gone and I fear college life may not recover. Even the way we take tests has drastically changed. Thus far, I have only had one test that wasn’t an open note exam, and I know for a large portion of students closed note exams can still mean open note if you’re in your dorm. How will we know how to manage the rigorous college curriculum once we’ve lost the formative freshman experience?

If it helps anyone picture what college stories I was told and the college experience I was prepared for, my dad’s name is Brad. He wears khaki shorts and he was a member of the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity at Iowa State University. I was fully prepared for getting black-out drunk every night of the week and for all the crazy shenanigans that accompany that type of lifestyle. I had my chitchat skills prepared and ready to go so that I could make friends at parties and large get-togethers. That obviously didn’t happen. Instead, we play board games in our dorm entirely sober. College is not just about learning and paying exorbitant amounts of money for textbooks you will not use. It is a place where you are appropriately socialized for the first time. Thousands of students will miss out on having the same conversation with hundreds of people: what year are you, what’s your major, where do you live, etc. Missing that tedious and annoying social learning phase may stunt this class. With any luck, there will be enough time post-vaccination to make up for the lost time. Regrettably, that may not happen.

Currently, there is fear that even this year will end with us being sent home. The dream of sustainable in-person learning would be crushed, along with any hope of finishing off the school year in a “normal” way. Though the experiences we have had at college thus far have allowed us new students to get a general vibe of SLU, we cannot see what SLU is truly like while abiding by public health guidelines. The student body behaves differently when there isn’t a giant world catastrophe influencing them. During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, I could see that there was a large portion of SLU students that were active and cared a considerable amount. There is also a portion that were complacent and did nothing to advocate for those being killed. Finally, there’s the portion that opposes the movement in its entirety and whose members wear blue lives matter masks regularly. Personally, I am only really good friends with people who have the same basic core values as me. I do not risk seeing anyone I do not trust, so it has been hard to see people outside of my little bubble. This practice may stunt how we see our peers and how we view the world as well. Though we can infer a vibe, that is not worth how much we are paying for this collegiate experience. Not being immersed in a diverse culture and forming echo chambers will make it hard to learn what college is supposed to be like once we can start getting together with people who disagree with us. 

In conclusion, the current juniors and seniors need to leave something behind so that us youngsters know what the freak to do when things reopen. I know that there are some people already out there partying, but I don’t necessarily trust them to be the best teachers. Upperclassmen ought to just pick a freshman and teach them how to college so they can pass it on. I’m not sure how that will work, but I’m so scared of what the future of college holds after a year or more of being shut down. A little hope would help a lot.