The inevitable transition to Ithaca winter beginning in October is one of the most daunting obstacles for first-years attempting to adjust to Cornell’s campus.
But thanks to the coronavirus, winter also means isolation — with lower temperatures, students are increasingly forced inside, away from the outdoor spaces that have become a critical social nexus.
Diego Virtue ’24 said eating on the North Campus lawns and playing spikeball have become one of the few ways he and other first-years have made friends.
But with the cold weather forcing them indoors, first-years, still trying to find their place on campus, are concerned with how fewer opportunities for socializing outside of their hallmates will affect their wellbeing.
“Everywhere in the dorms has limits,” said Willow Brawley ’24, “where are [we] supposed to go?”
Without the opportunity to interact outdoors, first-years and other on-campus students are forced to exclude people from gatherings to comply with Cornell’s behavioral compact — capping dorm rooms at four people.
Virtue said that although public health restrictions limit the number of in-person friends students can make, these circumstances have still fostered close connections with those they meet on the quad, in Donlon Hall hallways and on Zoom.
While Cornell has created online programming for students on and off campus, “[it] doesn’t make up for the lack of in-person connection,” Virtue said.
These social restrictions force first-year students to find alternative ways to connect with others and support their emotional wellbeing. For some, this means devoting more time to studying.
William Serrano ’24 said the dampened campus life has caused him to “excel academically,” but he said he realizes that if he did not feel like he was succeeding “and was doing poor socially and emotionally [because of COVID restrictions], it would be awful.”
Brawley said she plans to prioritize mental health and self-care going into the winter months by maintaining friendships back home while trying to make new ones. But she said she’s not too worried about looming snow piles: “Snow is really pretty!”
Although their first year looks entirely different than any other Cornell class, these fall months still mark the beginning of an entirely new experience for the Class of 2024. Even under COVID restrictions, many students are living on their own for the first time, surrounded by people their age and not bound by a typical six-hour block of school.
“Being able to discover all of these cool things and have all of these new resources available,” Serrano said, “it’s just so exciting and something that I am really comforted by, emotionally.”