Written By: Angelie Roche
The 2020 Fall semester was one many will remember for years to come; because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of campus life at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) changed drastically. For one, there were heightened regulations —students were expected to wear masks everywhere on campus (indoors and outdoors) besides their personal living spaces, maintain a safe social distance and wash their hands frequently. Many first-year students who otherwise would have had roommates instead lived in single rooms to limit the spread, and a large number of SMCM students spent the semester at home completing classes online. Additionally, SMCM staff has undergone changes as well, having to constantly monitor COVID-19 numbers and making sure students and staff follow the guidelines they put into place.
With the ongoing pandemic, many students did not have the traditional “college experience” they had expected. With such a large number of students being placed in single rooms, many found it harder to make connections with others on campus, but some found the experience to be not as bad as they thought. First year student Katya Scott, who had originally signed up for a double room but switched to a single because of health concerns, said that she “felt a lot safer” without a roommate, even though living alone was not her original plan.
Other students stayed home entirely, taking all of their classes online. Freshman Emma Huckabee, who would have been a commuter student, was among those who decided to attend her classes remotely. She had mixed feelings about her first semester at SMCM; as a music major, it was especially difficult to navigate classes as live performances could not take place. However, she said she was “pleasantly surprised” by how her professors and fellow classmates adapted to the situation, making the semester enjoyable nonetheless. “Besides missing the experience of performing music live, I don’t think I’ve lost much of what I looked forward to,” she said. “I’ve made great connections, and every class has been engaging and interactive.”
For the Wellness Center staff, this semester has been hectic, full of surprises and very different than anything they had dealt with in the past. Director Laurie Scherer explains that the Center does not usually spend so much time dealing with one specific crisis; normally, the Center would be abuzz with giving students medication and providing counseling, but this semester their primary focus has been dealing with the coronavirus, from answering community concerns to talking to worried students who are afraid of getting the notorious test. However, Scherer says she is grateful for how well students have followed COVID-19 guidelines, keeping the weekly dashboard mostly free of cases and the isolation beds empty. There was only one major COVID-19 spike near the beginning of the semester, due to students moving in who had already been exposed, but afterwards SMCM has been able to maintain a mostly COVID-free community.
What Scherer is most concerned with now is how safe students will be when they return home for winter break. “We’ve been good on campus,” she says, “but I’m concerned about when students disperse… with cold weather prompting more indoor activities, winter is a tough time for viral illnesses.” She believes that the Spring semester, which begins Jan. 20, will look very similar to the fall — with no clear endpoint in sight, it seems that the coronavirus will continue to impact college life for at least another semester. Her advice for the upcoming break is for students to continue following the coronavirus guidelines. Even though the administration has no way of monitoring how safe students will be when they return home, Scherer urges that students be mindful about where they travel and who they interact with. If everyone does their part, hopefully the spring semester will be just as successful as the fall.