Students who moved on campus at the beginning of the spring semester face unique difficulties integrating into the ASU community, with COVID-19 cases still high in Arizona and in-person events still limited.
Throughout the fall semester, in-person welcome events for incoming freshmen were limited due to the pandemic. As the semester progressed, some students wanted more in-person social activities, something many students felt ASU had promised ahead of the fall semester.
In response to requests from students, the University has pushed for more in-person instruction and events during the spring semester, despite Arizona being first in the nation for its seven-day rolling average per 100,000 cases as of Wednesday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meenah Rincon, a University spokesperson, wrote in an email that ASU hopes to fulfill this growing demand, but must adhere to its new, tighter set of rules as the pandemic continues.
Rincon wrote that an identified event organizer must be physically present at every in-person event and must complete a checklist to ensure University protocol is being properly followed. Social distancing must be observed throughout the entire event and masks are required at all times, she wrote.
Jonathan Pacheco, a fifth year student studying elementary education and vice president of the Programming and Activities Board (PAB), said the board is continuing the same traditions they've always had, but with adaptations to adhere to COVID-19 regulations. PAB requires students wear their masks at all times, socially distance, RSVP and refrain from eating food during these events.
“Other than that, the rules are still the same,” Pacheco said. “Just have fun. You’re still gonna talk to people, you’re still gonna meet new people.”
Despite this reassurance, students are voicing their growing concerns. Predominantly Zoom-hosted welcome events greeted students who moved on-campus for the spring. Aniket Tiwari, a freshman and international student who arrived at ASU this spring, said he’s been struggling to find a sense of community and connect with other students on campus.
“I attended (welcome) events, but even they are virtual and they are boring,” Tiwari said. “I couldn’t make friends.”
According to the University’s COVID-19 management strategy webpage, ASU began classes this semester in learning mode two, where courses are offered in ASU Sync. The mode allowed for classes to be made available both in-person while adhering to public health guidelines, and via Zoom.
While Tiwari was aware of this, he was shocked by how many of his own classes were strictly online.
“I thought that 50% would be in person, but it’s like 95% online,” Tiwari said. “The way things are virtual right now is really hard for me.”
Tiwari's experience was the same as many new students during the fall semester. Many students were disappointed in how few in-person classes and events were available and how little control ASU seemed to have over the spread of coronavirus in the dorms.
As of Monday, there were 537 active COVID-19 cases within the ASU community, and nearly 6,000 students, staff and faculty have tested positive since Aug. 1.
Receptive to student demands and sympathetic to the social and academic challenges of a virtual classroom, Pacheco said PAB hopes to shake things up throughout the spring semester. The group plans on hosting events in larger outdoor spaces like the Sun Devil Fitness Complex fields, where people can spread out and reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.
While campus life may look different now than it once did, the University, PAB and other student engagement groups are working together to provide some in-person events for students, as the pandemic allows.
“For those people who are hesitant about coming to on-campus events, try one out and talk to us there,” Pacheco said. “We want to make sure every single person there feels comfortable.”
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