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Freshmen cope with pandemic

Freshman Paige O’Brien before heading to CU.

First, they missed out on their senior year of high school. Now, they’re facing their first year of college during a pandemic.

And it hasn’t been easy.

“I just didn’t expect it to be like this. My first year here and I can’t even say I know anyone other than my suitemates and teammates,” said first-year student Paige O’Brien.

O’Brien, like many other new students on campus, struggles to meet people and experience a “normal” college life because of the Vermont State and university guidelines put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

These guidelines include, but are not limited to, mandated mask policies in public, staying in “households,” COVID testing, limiting social gatherings and travel restrictions.

Over the summer, Castleton University decided to conduct classes remotely. Students who wanted to live on campus during the fall semester were allowed to if they followed the safety protocols put in place on campus.

This agreement might have been easier said than done.

Those returning students already had their feet wet in the Zoom world after being sent home on March 13, 2020, and felt prepared to take on this online adventure. On the other hand, first-year students had little to no experience using Zoom during their final months in high school.

O’Brien said she and her suitemates are frustrated with online classes and “…feel like professors know only their names and a fun fact about themselves.”

It’s not the professors’ fault, students say. These guidelines make “normalcy” difficult, and the most interaction students are getting is through a webcam.

Not only is online school difficult, but life in the dorms has changed from last semester. More students say they feel isolated and hopeless. Last semester, students living on campus were allowed to enter any dorm building. If you lived off-campus, you had no access to the residence halls.

Before the spring semester, the State of Vermont came out with a guideline prohibiting multi-household gatherings. Senior Community Advisor Mariah Jollie explained the new state guideline and how this rule has become the most frustrating of them all.

“Not all students live in suites or residence halls with their friends and this rule prohibits buildings to intermingle. If you live in Wheeler, you are not allowed into Castleton Hall and vice versa. Each residence building is called a household and you can only mingle throughout your residence hall,” she said.

Some students cooperate and stay out of other residence buildings. Other students find ways to sneak into other residence halls either through back doors or when a community advisor isn’t on duty.

Jollie has recently been advocating for the student body by creating a petition asking the governor of Vermont to rethink his definition of households for universities in hopes to allow those on campus to intermingle socially distant in other dorm buildings.

She said it’s for the sake of the students’ mental health. As of right now, there have been no changes in this state guidance.

First-year students are overwhelmed and their expectations of how college is supposed to be isn’t like that at all. With orientation being mostly online, many students early on didn’t know where resources are on campus; most didn’t even see their first classroom until the first day of classes on Feb. 1.

Junior Kathryn Coolidge said she has had to show her suitemates, and many students lost on campus, where their in-person classes were because of this problem.

“It’s hard to see [first-year] students struggle because before COVID, they would have been already exposed to these experiences before their first day of school,” Coolidge said.

Many first-year students also feel isolated and alone. Castleton University has provided a few public spaces for people to socially distance themselves outside of their residence halls, but hours are limited. On the bright side, students say the Campus Activities Board has been doing a great job by providing many activities on the weekend, virtually and in-person, to gets students out.

“I do enjoy going to the CAB events, but I still don’t get the same social interaction due to the COVID guidelines,” said first-year Grace Pelletier.

Even with this effort, first-year students seem to be slipping through the cracks.

“We come to college to be free and learn to be independent but right now, I feel like I’m a prisoner,” O’Brien said.