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Living through history isn’t easy. When Covid pushed millions of students off campuses across the country that fated March, our generation’s college experience was ruptured. It’s been a strange year plus since; one marked by distance and, for many, loneliness and loss. But Zoom is on the backburner and campus life is bubbling up again: chatter in the dining halls, freshmen clinging to their lanyards, and, today, the first print edition of this paper in 538 days.
To our peers and our community: Hi! We’ve missed you.
Seeing campus bursting with life feels like a dream. We certainly felt relief upon hearing we’d get an in-person fall. But it’s impossible to return to a school that kicked you out with five days' notice without having your relationship to that campus change, however infinitely justifiable the decision was.
The pandemic’s handprints are all over our college experience, despite (or perhaps due to) the intense efforts of our university to shield us from its effects. The trauma of having to vacate our dorms, and, for others, of starting college in stark, virtual circumstances still lingers for many, especially as the Delta variant reminds us that we are certainly not out of the woods.
We all know how truly fragile our precious college experience is: the one full of laughter not filtered through webcams and other joys which once felt irrevocable. The exceptional relief we feel at beginning to experience these things again risks morphing into anxiety as students find themselves trapped between the shadow of an old world and the glimmer of a new one that, in many ways, is just as scary as it is exciting.
Each class of students at Harvard has unique apprehensions about returning to campus. Members of the Class of 2025 shoulder all of the typical concerns that are routine for first-year students — Who will my friends be? Will I miss my family? Who do I want to become in this new environment? — but also carry the additional disorientation brought about by their unique admissions cycle, sans Visitas and Opening Days. The ’24s are about as clueless when it comes to the ins and outs of campus life; many are seeing campus for the first time, and even those that have lived in Harvard’s dorms are now navigating an entirely different campus — one where students are swarming into previously shut dining halls, common spaces, and actually (can you believe it?) attending somewhat sanctioned social events. Meanwhile, the ’23s, having experienced less than a year of in-person instruction themselves, have leapfrogged from their freshman spring to their junior fall. And, with only two semesters of college left, the ’22s are now expected to lead, even as the normal torch-passing that would have prepared them to do so has been obliterated.
Against this backdrop, it’s completely normal for students to feel somewhat confused about their relationship to the University. After all, for many, this relationship was never given a real chance to develop. A soft touch is required to ignite or rekindle a sense of community again.
To that end, Harvard needs to create effective programming that helps students orient themselves to campus and genuinely convinces wary, war-torn students that they care. The majority of campus has no clue what norms usually dictate this place — again, only one class of students has spent a full year here! Right now, it feels as if students were let loose on a shell of a campus that can’t quite remember what it's supposed to be or provide. Given our virtual estrangement, maybe the University thought this was enough. But this vacuum needs to be filled by administrators working with students to clearly articulate a set of campus norms we can be proud of, and actively doing community building that brings students into the fold. Students must be involved in this work, especially upperclassmen, but can’t be expected to reorient themselves without a steady hand from Harvard.
It takes commitment to turn a house into a home. Hopefully, through the collective efforts of both students and the University, Harvard can become one.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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