Zoe Berg, photo editor
As students return to campus, some are experiencing the isolation that comes with online classes, tighter campus restrictions and, in some cases, COVID-19 isolation housing.
A nationwide rise in COVID-19 cases in late December and early January led administrators to delay the start of the semester by a week, move the first two weeks of instruction online and shift to take-out catering services until at further order. Students had the option of returning to campus between Jan. 14 and Feb. 4, choosing to begin their classes for the semester either in residence at Yale or from home.
The News spoke to eight students about their first days of the semester, many of whom described a general feeling of uncertainty about their return or their intention to return to campus.
“I almost felt better at home because my therapist is there and I had a lot more free time and there wasn’t this problem of having to figure out when I was going to eat,” Lawrence Tang said. 25, who returned to campus before classes began. “My parents were parents and took care of me. Being here, not only am I separated from this very safe safety net, but there is also a lot more uncertainty.
Rhayna Poulin ’25 said she returned to campus on Jan. 14, the first day students were allowed to return to their dorms, and is happy with her decision to take classes at Yale rather than ‘home.
Although Poulin said the lack of in-person events and classes meant the campus felt different, the atmosphere at Morse College, where she lives, was similar enough to last semester that she chose to take classes. course there rather than at home.
“In reality, even though I can’t physically go to class, I can still see my friends and walk around campus,” Poulin said. “I feel like being home and having to take Zoom classes would be a lot worse than being here and having some semblance of normalcy.”
Emma Polinsky ’25 agreed, explaining that while Branford College feels much calmer now than it did last semester, the sense of community is still palpable. Polinsky always sees friendly faces in the dining rooms and in the basement, she said, noting the warmth of the dining room staff.
But for students who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival and were moved to isolation accommodations, that sense of normalcy has been harder to maintain.
Emily Zenner ’24 tested negative when she arrived on campus, but tested positive a few days later – she speculated she had contracted COVID-19 while traveling. In isolation housing, Zenner said, she receives a daily delivery of frozen food and is sometimes allowed out into a fenced yard that she has likened to a “zoo exhibit.”
The Yale COVID-19 Dashboard reports that isolation housing is currently 76% available, and Zenner and Suzanne Brown ’23, who is also isolating at McClellan Hall, both said that isolation housing appears relatively empty.
“I can tell a few people have moved into my floor in the last two days I’ve been here, but for the most part it’s quiet,” Brown said. “It’s almost eerily quiet. I could hear when people were in their Zoom classes earlier today. »
Zenner agreed that social connection was limited in isolated accommodation, expressing concern for students, especially first years, who might not have close friends watching over them in isolation.
For Zenner, taking online classes from isolation accommodation has been “kind of a blessing” as she has ADHD and could be more distracted in her own bedroom, she said. However, she pointed out that remote learning apart from other students can increase feelings of loneliness.
“There’s really no one to get the nervousness out with,” Zenner said. “I’m a bit alone in the room with my classes and my scary thoughts.”
The first week of remote learning has also been challenging for students who are not in isolation accommodation.
For Poulin, who lives with four other people, coordinating schedules with roommates has been the biggest challenge of remote learning so far. Poulin said his housemates had completely different schedules and sometimes had to leave the suite so others could attend attendance-based classes.
Karley Yung ’25 faced similar challenges. She lives in Lanman-Wright Hall, where her four offices and those of her roommates are in the common room.
“One of my roommates is always at home, so another one of my roommates stays in the common room, and my roommate and I go out when we have talk-style seminars or classes,” Yung explained. “My roommate and I are both in a conference together so it was fun to sit next to her and react at the same time like when the Zoom freezes.”
For other students, taking courses online has made it more difficult to attend class and use course materials.
Tang, who compared his remote learning experience to “a very expensive podcast”, has struggled to stay focused in class, not least because he struggles to pay attention when learning from his bedroom.
“Zoom classes are really, really bad,” Tang said. “I can’t concentrate. I literally do everything they recommend: take my meds, find something to play with with my hands, put on all my devices except the ones I’m zooming in on , in airplane mode. But I don’t know. I still can’t pay attention.
Mahesh Agarwal ’24 also added that distance learning has the effect of isolating students from leaving their suite and moving around campus.
When classes are held in person, Agarwal said, campus social life is often spontaneous, driven by unexpected run-ins. But the switch to Zoom has temporarily halted that aspect of social interaction, not least because cold weather discourages students from congregating outdoors.
“I think it’s the combination that it’s winter, there’s people who are on campus and people who aren’t, and the two places where you usually see people – going and in the restaurant – are not operating normally,” Agarwal said. “I think it definitely feels isolated.”
During the first week of classes, many residential colleges began allowing students to assemble their own take-out meals rather than picking them up from dining hall staff, which Agarwal said had felt “a little Oliver Twist’.
Nevertheless, such a drastic change in dining habits may still pose a challenge for many students upon their return to campus.
“Even in the first semester, it was hard for me to finish all my food or tell myself to eat,” Tang said. “Now, with take-out containers, sometimes it’s almost impossible. I have to put on a show on Netflix and as a result I can’t have a social meal even with my roommates because it will distract me and I’ll end up not eating anything.
Miriam Kopyto ’23 noted that other students might rely on meals with their friends to maintain a healthy eating schedule. Take-out meals, Kopyto suggested, could pose challenges for students struggling with eating disorders or getting enough nutrients from their diets.
Kopyto, director of the Yale Student Mental Health Association, highlighted the consequences that limits on in-person engagement can have on student mental health.
“I feel like at this point, Yale is taking away the ability to have meaningful social interactions, especially at the start of the semester when you’re relying on friends most of the time to help organize your classes and help you get on the right track and you just don’t have that right now,” Kopyto said. “It’s a million times harder to be alone.”
Kopyto suggested that the University provide students, especially those in isolated housing, with available mental health resources, suggesting that students automatically get an appointment with Yale College Community Care upon admission. in an isolated dwelling.
As for the rest of the semester, students’ outlook was largely split between anxiety and cautious optimism.
“I can’t say with certainty that we will resume in-person classes on the scheduled date, but I can say with certainty that the University is working as best it can to achieve that goal,” Polinsky said. “It seems their hope is to move things in-person as soon as possible and safe for the Yale-New Haven community.”
Polinsky also said the vaccination and booster requirements at Yale generally made her feel safe on campus, especially compared to her home state of Florida.
Zenner, however, pointed out how easy it had been for him to contract COVID-19 before coming to campus and worried that classes could stay away if cases in the northeast spike. Changing positivity rates, Zenner said, would be the only way to predict the rest of the semester.
“I’m pretty confident that classes will resume in person,” Poulin said. “However, I sometimes worry that the administration will announce two more weeks of virtual learning at the end of this period and that this pattern will continue until most of our semester is online. I don’t see that happening, necessarily, but I do worry about it.
In-person classes are scheduled to resume on February 7.