November 19, 2020

DERY | Upperclassmen should actively introduce first-years to normal campus life post-COVID

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I used to envision a daily routine where I wake up early enough for a relaxed breakfast, and make the most of my spare time in between walking from class to class. When I first started college last fall, these goals regressed into oblivion in a matter of a few weeks and my standards fell to limiting myself from pressing snooze more than twice. Now, in a semester where going to class requires the minimum of a few presses of the mouse, my optimism heading into the semester — including a hope for a routine as close to “normal” as possible — has fared even worse. 

For many of us, online classes have only enabled the tendency to only do just enough to get to class on time — and it has greatly lowered that threshold. What used to be a morning routine and walk to class is now a roll out of bed. This heightened convenience has let even those of us on the strictest regimens slip up. A suitemate who last year would wake up early enough to go to the Helen Newman gym and eat breakfast before his morning classes now wakes up at 3 p.m. and falls asleep at 6 a.m., a schedule that his entirely asynchronous course load permits. In a semester where our schedules and the University encourage minimal excursions from our rooms, time will tell how quickly we will drop these bad habits as our campus looks to gradually reopen to a state of normalcy. 

Those of us who have experienced a “normal” semester like to say we’ll be more inclined to pick up our old routines. Perhaps the greater looming question is whether current first-years will be able to break the only norm they’ve ever known, which, as a first-year transfer tells me, has consisted of taking classes solely from their own room. Following an unpleasant experience attempting to reserve and locate a study space, they don’t see libraries at Cornell as an optimal study space or a viable outing. It’s mentalities like these, ingrained into the newest population of Cornellians, that are a microcosm of a gloomy bigger picture set for when Cornell returns to normalcy. 

When I was a first-year, the routines I developed within the first few months were the same ones I picked back up when returning for the following spring. The stacks of Olin in which I would study late at night, the empty classrooms I frequented when the stacks were full and even the dining halls I went to back when each had its own rotation all ensured that I would trek cross-campus on a nearly daily basis. 

Though we can only speculate about whether non-freshmen will truly back their intentions to gradually resume their pre-COVID routines with action in the coming semesters, first-years who lack this point of reference pose a greater concern to whether our campus will become more reserved and withdrawn in the aftermath of COVID. 

It is both our (as upperclassmen) and the University’s burden to ensure that opening more facilities over the coming semesters is not simply a matter of unlocking a few doors, but rather actively introducing first-years who lacked access and the opportunity to explore these facilities during their transition to Cornell. Insisting we’ll be back at Uris Library and Libe Cafe in no time from the comfort of our rooms, to which we’ve delegated all of our activities, is easy. Returning to more active routines that don’t slip through our figures like the gym and breakfast-filled mornings that are still a figment of many of our imaginations is a harder task — one that will largely determine the liveliness of our campus, and the example set to incoming students to continue the traditions that we’ve put on hold. 

Roei Dery is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at rdery@cornellsun.com. The Dery Bar runs every other Thursday this semester.