By The Herring Team
─ “Welcome,” said the machine that scanned the first student cards at AUC’s academic building (AB) on Monday, August 31st. For most AUC students, it was a welcome back to on-campus courses, which have been suspended since March 12th. Taped-off areas, hand sanitizer stands and arrows pointing to alternative routes line the way to on-campus classes in this pandemic.
Vickie Soulier, third-year Social Science major, says she feels “lucky” to be one of the few students who will have all her classes on campus. She says “ I really like being back, although it’s a bit weird now that the AB is almost empty, but I think it’s fair that they’re doing it this way for safety reasons.”
Soulier believes AUC’s anti-Corona measures are effective in protecting students against the Coronavirus. She says, “I feel as safe in the AB as I would feel anywhere, really. I actually feel less safe going to Albert Heijn and doing my groceries than being in the AB, where everyone keeps distance.”
Other students are less impressed with the reopening of the AB. Felipe Carvalho, third-year Social Science major, is concerned that the regulations aren’t enough to stop the spread of the Coronavirus in the long term. He says,“My friends and I have been joking about how long it would be before we go fully online again. My personal prediction is two months.”
Carvalho, who has spent the prior four months in his hometown of Massachusetts, was taken aback by the absence of face-masks in classes, and believes AUC should take more steps. He says, “I am disappointed that AUC has only followed governmental regulations, especially given that the dorms are a hotspot [for the Coronavirus].” Carvalho is also apprehensive about the first year students activity in the dorms. He says, “my other concern is the reckless first years. I understand where they are coming from but it’s still reckless.”
For those new to AUC, starting university and a new chapter has been a journey riddled with disappointment. Isis Knijff, first year Science student, says, “When I applied I had this feeling that it was going to be—the auc community, constantly hanging out with everyone, never having dinner alone.” However, due to social distancing, meeting new people has proved to be a challenge. Knijff says, “there is an enormous difference meeting people online and in real life.” Because of this, Knijff has been proactive in meeting others while staying socially distanced, by walking back with others after classes and inciting small interactions of kindness.
Starting the academic year has also been an adjustment for first year students. Knijff says she has had little experience with classes on Zoom, making it hard to pay attention in online classes. Knijff also notes how “the teachers were a bit anxious or nervous as well,” during hybrid classes, which involve half the class participating in person and the other half via a camera on Zoom. Even the way to class itself, through strange alternative routes in a quiet and empty building, felt alienating on Knijff’s first days of university.
After three months of online lectures, students have come to appreciate the impact of in-person classes on their education. Fionn English, third-year Social Science major, admits that his opinion on the adequacy of online education has changed: “I used to think that online was the way of the future and that we should move more in that line, but I recognize that I much prefer being in person whenever possible.”
English states that his views on his studies and his identity as an AUC student has changed due to online education: “It’s more fragmented because things are online and people are no longer in the same place; it’s less of a prestigious collective of excellent and diverse [people]. I feel less of a community with people when I’m online.”
English is not alone in holding this sentiment. For Tariq Sayed Hassen, a second year Humanities student, being in the same room as his fellow students without the barrier of a screen has been motivating. He says, “I automatically find myself more engaged when a person is right in front of me, as opposed to on screen.” However, because of mixed Zoom, hybrid, and in-class class models, adjusting has been a challenge. “It’s really complicated, but I am very glad that at least part of it is happening in person,” says Sayed Hassen.
Amidst concerns that classes will be forced to return to Zoom before the end of the semester, students are prepared for the worst. Sayed Hassen says, “I think online learning has been done well. There’s not much else that can be done. I understand the need for caution and safety.” As someone new to Zoom classes, Knijff says, “I can imagine that some people will have problems having such little guidance. That might be a problem. But I do get it if the AB has to close, it has to happen. And if you survive that year, you’ll be good, forever.”