A Whole New World: How College Freshmen Faced a Pandemic

A Whole New World: How College Freshmen Faced a Pandemic

Words by Eric Taunton

First year college students have enough to worry about—making new friends, discovering who they are on their own, and trying not to party too much. But today’s freshmen have to worry about something that others haven’t—COVID-19. 

“It’s definitely been a learning experience,” said Anjali Thottassery, a political science major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s a change, but COVID makes it 10 times harder.”

Anjali was born and raised in Hoover, Alabama—about 20 minutes away from UAB’s campus. She thought that would make it easier to make friends, but online classes have made it a little harder. “Everything is online now,” said Thottassery. “The clubs that you used to have that met in person, and the events that you would have that allow you to meet in person, don’t exist anymore. So you become stuck with the people like your roommate and people in your dorm—and that’s made it a lot harder.” 

Online classes present Anjali with another problem—sitting in her room all day. “There’s a sort of ‘Zoom fatigue’ that happens when you’re on Zoom for hours, and it’s unexplainable why it’s happening because you’re sitting in your room all day,” said Thottassery. “Sometimes we’ll be on Zoom for an hour and fifteen minutes, and after 30 minutes I start to feel really tired and can feel my attention wavering.”

This is also a problem for Tavaria Johnson, a first-year biology student attending Jacksonville State University. Like Anjali, Tavaria was forced to interact with students and teachers from her dorm room for hours at a time.

“I’m someone who thrives off of physically being in class and actually interacting with people in the classroom,” said Johnson.

Classes being strictly online made college a little more difficult for Tavaria, who is a first generation college student from Childersburg, Alabama. She wasn’t sure what college would be like. “College was really confusing for me as a first generation college student, because I already didn’t know what to expect,” said Johnson. “Adding COVID and social distancing made it a little more confusing.”

Though it’s been a rough start for many students, freshmen might find their second semester of college a little easier than the first as COVID vaccines are being issued, football games are happening, and in-person classes are slowly making a comeback.  

Makenzie McGuire, a freshman nursing student at the University of North Alabama, has already started in-person classes. “We’ve started going back to in-person classes, but the size of the classes are cut down because of COVID—and we have to stay spread out and wear masks,” said McGuire. 

Several other colleges—including UAB and JSU—have plans to follow suit. UAB and JSU teach classes on a hybrid schedule, meaning somedays that class will be online and others in-person. However, students are not required to appear on the days when that class meets in person.

Freshman students everywhere have had to adjust to something that first year students have never had to before. As we move closer and closer toward a solution, this trying year will just become a memory.