Opinion: Our only shot at freshman year
While the Mid-Semester Residential Experience is not ideal, it’s the only freshman experience we can get
When I imagined what my freshman year would be, I imagined friends, all-nighters and parties. I did not picture Zoom, online class and isolation. I, along with many other freshmen, was heartbroken when the University announced that our first semester would be entirely online. The freshmen year we all wanted was not going to happen. Most of my friends from high school ended up in-person for the fall semester, even my friends who were attending large state schools. They all had “normal” freshmen experiences, while AU freshmen did not. They were able to make the memories and friends that we were not.
For most of this year, I thought I was not going to get to make any of those freshmen memories or have any freshmen experience at all. Freshman year was postponed until sophomore year. While the University always maintained that it was trying to plan some form of on-campus experience for the spring, I had been burned before. The fall in-person plans were scrapped with little transparency, and I wasn’t going to waste my breath over plans that might not happen. Yet, to my surprise, the University announced in January that it was planning for a Mid-Semester Residential Experience for the second half of the spring semester.
Initially, I was really happy. I was finally going to be able to have a freshman year — or at least a sliver of it. The MSRE was, whether I liked it or not, going to be the highlight of my first year here at AU. After my initial happiness faded, I was left with more questions than I had answers for. What was it going to be like? What were the COVID-19 precautions going to be? Was I going to be able to eat in TDR? There was an info session for parents, but there was barely anything for students. Even though there was a MSRE FAQ, it didn’t offer much information.
The biggest blunder so far, besides the sporadic and inconsistent communication, has been the testing required before arrival. In an email from the University sent out on Feb. 15, the testing policy was outlined, stating that participants in the residential experience are “required to provide the university with proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken 48-72 hours prior to move-in.” This means that we will have to take a test, send it out to a lab and get results back just three days before our move-in dates. This seems impossible. The U.S. mail system is still slow and inconsistent. Bad weather across the country also presents the opportunity for further delays. If we don’t get our results back, we’ll have to move into a Scott Circle hotel quarantine until our results come in.
In the same email, AU also provided companies that could provide at-home and mail-in COVID-19 tests. Each test was over $100, which could be unaffordable for many families on top of the $5k price tag for just 9-10 weeks on campus. I bought three tests to increase my chances that I’ll get results back in time. Yet, I know that’s not a viable option for all students. Even with three tests, the 48-72 hour window feels like it’s setting us up for failure. While I understand AU is just trying to be safe, these testing debacles make the MSRE seem risky and unplanned.
The confusing communication and requirements could explain why only half of the MSRE spots are filled.
In my short time at AU, I can sense that the University struggles with transparency and I can’t help but feel like we’ve been put in a bind. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, COVID-19 is still our reality. New variants are popping up and spreading faster than the original strain. There is still a lot of risk with going on campus. If you’re immunocompromised, it seems like you weren’t factored into the equation for this one. On the other hand, the MSRE is our only shot at a freshman year. We can finally gain the on-campus experience we’ve been missing. It feels like the only way to make real connections. We can finally socialize in person (safely) without having to schedule a Zoom meeting. In addition, like many freshmen, I am desperate to get out of my house. I’ve been here too long. I finished senior year and graduated all from the same room I’m now taking my second-semester classes in. I need a change of scenery for the sake of my mental health.
Even though it seems risky, I am still making the decision to go to the MSRE. The risks of moving to D.C. outweigh the lost experiences of staying at home. It’s the only chance we have at an in-person experience this year. Uncertainty in D.C. is better than staying isolated at home.
Riley Lorgus is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and a columnist for The Eagle.