Recovering from restrictions: how students are adjusting to a semester of normalcy

Students enjoying the Involvement fair last month (Rachel Allen / McDaniel Free Press).

McDaniel has had the ability to lift some of the restrictions because of the mandated vaccine policy. Students have had varying experiences as they adjust to college life during this time in the pandemic.

Some of the main pandemic adaptations on campus that are now being lifted and revised include mask requirements, class format, residence hall restrictions, sporting events and dining.

These changes make for a vastly different college experience, compared to last year. Some students have found it hard to adjust.

“I feel like this semester has been a hard adjustment. I’m not used to seeing all these people walking around campus,” sophomore Monte Prinz said. “Especially compared to last semester, it was like a ghost town. Now, there are a lot of people.”        

Academically, some students are struggling as they adjust to more normal and in-person classes, especially now that most classes have moved to in-person format. There are no longer restrictions in class sizes, unlike fall 2020 and spring 2021, where class sizes were limited to allow social distancing.

“To me, last semester I was more successful, but I was not learning anything. This semester I am learning way more, but not as successful as last semester,” senior Hannah Cehelsky said.

She feels it could be the change of classroom format but could also be different because of the coursework in her classes.

“At the same time, the sorts of classes that I am taking now are a lot different than last year,” Cehelsky said.

On the other hand, some students have enjoyed the return to normalcy in the classroom and have felt more successful in their academics.

Although there were in-person classes last year, in-person classes still look different this year. Desks are no longer six feet apart, allowing students to feel more connected to their peers and more engaged in their learning.

“Academics have been better for me. I feel more connected to everyone and the subjects I am learning,” Prinz said.

Sophomore Gabe Jensen agrees there has been an increase in the connection between students and staff.

“This semester has been a lot better for me, there is more interaction with classmates and teachers,” Jensen said.

The food spots on campus have started to return to normal as well. Last year, students had to reserve a time to enter Englar Dining Hall (Glar) to ensure there were not too many people in there at once. Students also could not stay for an extended period of time.

There are no longer limits on how long students are able to stay in Glar. The capacity restrictions have also been lifted.  Students are still allowed to take their food to-go if preferred, which was an option that started in Fall 2020.

Additionally, some of the food layout is different. The self-serve salad bar has reopened this year, which was closed last year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Glar has been so busy this year. I love how we’re back to self-serve food like salads and hummus/ pita. The pub is also great because of the new seating area being open,” Prinz said.

The new Hilltop Pub seating area was roped off for the duration of last year.

Cehelsky recalls how Glar was before the pandemic compared to this semester.

“Glar feels the same as it was two years ago,” said Cehelsky.

When students and staff are outside, they are no longer required to wear a mask like they were last year. Mask mandates have also been lifted for residence halls and McDaniel students can move freely into friends’ living areas. However, masks are still required in all other buildings on campus including classrooms and athletic areas. Masks are also required to be worn in Glar and the Hilltop Pub unless consuming food.

Students have seen an increase in their social life on campus because of the lifted restrictions.

Sophomores have been given a chance to meet new people, which was difficult as first year students last year during the rougher parts of the pandemic.

“Last year, which was my freshman year- my social life felt nearly nonexistent. This year I can meet so many new people,” Jensen said.

Sporting events have started back up this semester. Athletic events are back in session and students are now allowed to attend games.

“This year I’ve enjoyed attending home football games; the joy of seeing everyone huddled on the hill with their best buds cooking out, the vibes are unmatched,” sophomore Mandy Hollan said.

Jensen agrees that sporting events have been a highlight of the semester.

“It’s great to be able to hang out with my friends and meet people face-to-face. The activity I have enjoyed the most this year is being able to watch school sports on the hill and support my peers,” Jensen said.

Last year, there were no visitors allowed in any residence halls. Even if a student lived on the same floor as someone else, they were not allowed to go in their dorm. Students could not go in any dorm or residence hall besides their own. This year, students are allowed to visit peers. They can go into other residence halls and dorm rooms. At this time, there are still no off-campus guests allowed in residence halls.

“Looking back, I am somewhat thankful we couldn’t huddle up in people’s rooms- only because I met so many people because of it, since there wasn’t much of an option to be indoors, especially in large groups,” Hollan said.

Despite last year’s efforts in trying to be social and join clubs, Prinz still felt like there was a lack of connection.

“To me, online club meetings defeat the purpose of joining a club- [which is] to meet people. It’s hard to connect with people online,” Prinz said.

He is happy with how McDaniel has opened and provided an increase in social interaction.

“I love how social events are in real life this year all the time rather than online,” Prinz said.

Students have seen how McDaniel’s precautions, like the vaccine mandate, has helped McDaniel return to normal and allow students to have a better college experience.

“Last year it felt like a ghost town, but now campus is so lively,” Jensen said.