Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

As the fall semester approaches, incoming Cornell students juggle the pros and cons of in-person classes.

July 1, 2020

Freshmen, Transfer Students Express Mixed Feelings About Reopening Plan

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Spread out classrooms, reservations for dining halls and limited extracurriculars may not be the educational experience that new first years signed up for ⁠⁠— but, amid a global pandemic, it is the experience they will likely get.

Cornell announced its decision to reopen campus in the fall, but with a slew of coronavirus-related precautions that will limit everything from clubs to dorms. While incoming freshmen and transfer students voiced relief that they will get to experience their first semester in Ithaca, many also expressed uncertainty about the implications of a physically distanced campus.

Davis Donley ’23, an incoming School of Industrial and Labor Relations student who transferred from Wake Forest University, said — despite all of the changes — he was glad to be on campus for the beginning of his Cornell education.

“Returning to campus is especially important for freshman and transfer students because they have the opportunity to meet new people during orientation and through clubs,” Donley wrote in a message to The Sun. “I am glad I will have a somewhat normal first experience at Cornell, despite the virus and some online classes.”

While Donley recognized that the risk of COVID-19 remains major — American coronavirus cases continue to soar after a short-lived period of decline — he supported Cornell’s reopening plan, believing that measures such as eliminating large in-person classes and mandating testing could effectively mitigate the risk of the pandemic.

Donley said he felt safe residing in University housing because he is “young with no underlying conditions,” but feels that he has a responsibility to act safely to try to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to more vulnerable populations.

According to an email sent by President Martha E. Pollack to the Cornell community this afternoon, on-campus housing will be limited to “singles and double occupancy,” while bathrooms will be “monitored in order to reduce the number of people sharing.”

Like Donley, Jyothsna Bolleddula ’24, an incoming human biology, health and society major, plans on coming to campus in the fall, but she expressed reservations about living in Cornell’s often tightly packed dorms despite the new measures.

“Coming back to campus is a leap of faith,” Bolleddula said. “Dorms have always been sites of disease spread. If you look at things like Mono, diseases always spread in dorms because so many people are living in a confined environment.”

Bolleddula said she would have preferred a model where only some subset of students were allowed to return, like Maine’s Bowdoin College, which decided it would reopen only to incoming freshmen and transfer students.

“Even if I wasn’t in the group that could come to campus, I would feel comfortable that when I did come to campus it was in an environment that could handle that level of people,” Bolleddula said.

First-year students will return to a socially distanced North Campus this fall, as all dorm rooms will be either singles or doubles.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Senior Photographer

First-year students will reside in a socially distanced North Campus this fall, as all dorm rooms will be either singles or doubles.

Aarya Tavshikar ’24 also plans on attending classes in Ithaca this fall, but said he is still looking for more answers on how Cornell’s new social distancing requirements will affect extracurricular activities, a topic largely left unaddressed by Pollack’s announcement.

“As a first-year student, experiencing campus in person is something that I was looking forward to. However, there was a real lack of details in the plan,” Tavshikar said. “There was a lot said about how classes and dining will work, but not much about how clubs will work. Especially for me as a musician, I want to know more about if I am going to be able to play music [in groups].”

Incoming students also questioned the University’s plan to finish the semester online, which calls for students to take courses and final exams virtually after Thanksgiving break.

For instance, Tavshikar and Donley both said they preferred holding final exams before the break, citing a fear that students may not have a good testing environment or be more likely to cheat.

In the case that people break social distancing rules, Tavshikar believes that the University should concentrate the enforcement of its social distancing rules on organizations rather than on individual students.

“Organizations would be the root of the problem. In general, people will stay home unless there is a club or org saying let’s go out and party,” Tavshikar said.

All three students agree that Cornell’s hybrid model, which will make most courses available online, is a good solution, but is not worth full tuition.

“I hope tuition is altered in some way. To pay the same amount of money to have many of our classes online doesn’t feel right. Having in-person time is what we pay for,” Bolleddula said.

Tavshikar agreed with Bolleddula, stating that “when we agree to pay full tuition, we expect a complete Cornell experience … we shouldn’t be expected to pay for the opportunities or resources we never experienced.”

Correction, July 1, 10:54 a.m.: A previous version of this article misgendered Bolleddula, attributing incorrect pronouns to her. The article has since been updated.