First-year dorms use tape to section off which areas can be occupied, in order to maintain social distancing. All first-year students are in single dorms this year. (Courtesy of Enzo Zechiel)

First-year students describe challenges associated with campus life

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When Nathan Florsheim, ‘24, accompanied one of his older siblings to move-in day five years ago, he experienced ceremonies that he has been looking forward to ever since. He vividly remembers upperclassmen cheering as his family drove onto campus and up to the dorms for the first time, and he has been eagerly awaiting a similar experience at Lehigh. 

As the class of 2024 arrived on-campus and settled into their living arrangements and classes in August, however, staple formalities like those Florsheim eagerly awaited did not take place. First-year students have had to adjust their expectations of what the typical college experience looks like. 

“I never pictured my freshman living situation to be a single in an upperclassman dorm,” Florsheim said, who lives in Sayre Park. “I pictured a traditional double.” 

Though first-years are still allowed to make use of campus facilities such as dorms, dining halls, the libraries and Taylor Gym, once it opens later this month, there are still new regulations in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

These include limiting the number of people at social events and forbidding first-year students from going to dorms other than their own. All first-year students are in single rooms.

“It’s definitely harder to meet people than it would be otherwise,” Enzo Zechiel, ‘24, said. “You can’t just leave your door open and expect that to work since there aren’t as many people on each floor.”

Zechiel is living in Upper Cents, where floors are limited to half capacity. He has been looking forward to his freshman year on campus since he was admitted in January and is cautiously optimistic that these social and academic limitations won’t ruin his experience. 

Still, he recognizes that it will take some effort to live a “typical freshman life.”

“It’s tough taking classes on Zoom, and I feel like I’m definitely missing out on experiences like walking into the wrong lecture hall on day one,” Zechiel said. “Still, I’m doing what I would be doing otherwise. It’s not traditional, but Lehigh is handling the process well.”

Some first-years with major-specific classes are finding remote learning less satisfactory.

Sam Brown, ‘24, an engineering major, said he was expecting more of a hands-on experience before the pandemic, especially in-person collaboration with his peers. 

The difficulties in adapting to a mostly remote college life extend past the academics alone. It’s also about the basics of learning time management skills and how to live independently that get interrupted by the pandemic.

“I wish I were in a normal classroom with a proper consistent schedule,” Florsheim said.

He said it’s harder for students to hold themselves accountable when they aren’t responsible for attending in-person lectures, which is made more difficult for classes that are asynchronous.

“The camera-off option is dangerous … there’s no policing that,” Florsheim said. 

Zechiel said he recognizes that everyone is facing the same unusual circumstances when it comes to socializing and meeting new people.

Signs are hung around the dorms to remind students to follow COVID-19 regulations. All rules must be followed in order to ensure a safe campus. (Courtesy of Enzo Zechielf)

Brown said COVID-19 regulations, including those preventing students from being able to visit other dorms, make socializing tougher. He believes there are more hoops to jump through and that the process has been much harder than it normally would have been. 

Florsheim doesn’t believe socialization has diminished but acknowledges that it’s different. 

“All freshmen are bonding over this shared experience and their mutual uncertainty,” Florsheim said. “Everyone is trying to make the best of it, and we’re all in the same boat.” 

It’s becoming more common for first-years to wander around campus looking to meet people from different dorms, since they don’t get many other opportunities to do so other than in dining halls, where students are permitted to sit with anyone they’d like, Florsheim said. Zechiel, Brown and Florsheim met each other doing exactly this. 

“Immediately after moving in, people were just walking around almost desperate to meet someone else,” Florsheim said. “That was comforting to see.” 

Zechiel met his current friend group at the Füd Truck, which he said likely isn’t typical. Still, he’s grateful it happened and believes everybody has been nice because there is a heightened need to connect. 

“It’s not perfect,” Brown said. “But it’s clear the administration is trying hard.” 

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