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Students eager to learn in person as they move into a new 'normal'

Over 16,000 students are expected to move in to ASU dorms before classes begin Thursday, a 3,000-person increase from Fall 2020

Students move into the Tooker dorms, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Tempe.

For the first time in months, ASU campuses are buzzing with first-year students eager to begin college. 

Moving in was much different for students compared to last year. Gone are required negative COVID-19 tests and lower dorm capacities. But some things still remained the same; students and parents still had drive-thru check-in appointments, face masks were present and the coronavirus still lingers.

Amid the busy movers, anxious parents and glaring sun, over 16,000 students are expected to move into ASU housing across all four campuses, according to a University press release, around 3,000 more compared to the start of Fall 2020. 

As of Aug. 4, 60% to 65% of incoming first-year students responded to a survey saying they are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a University spokesperson. The students surveyed include those who commute to class or attend ASU Online.

About 77% of staff and about 83% of faculty provided evidence they are fully vaccinated, the spokesperson said.

Because of Gov. Doug Ducey's June executive order barring schools and universities from mandating students report COVID-19 vaccines or enforce testing or masking, ASU must rely on voluntary surveys and digital vaccine card submissions from students and faculty to measure its vaccination rate.

Active reported COVID-19 cases within ASU's community have been steadily increasing over the past three weeks, according to weekly case reports from the University. In Arizona, newly reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the increase for the past week, with similar numbers to the state's spike in cases in summer 2020, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Anthony Jeffery, a freshman studying business entrepreneurship, said he thought he would live with the other business students at Hassayampa Academic Village, but it was full. So he moved in to Tooker House, the dorm typically meant for engineering students, on Thursday.

Jeffery took it in stride, because the new place meant he can meet a wider variety of students. 

"I was expecting everyone from Arizona, just to go to this college, and I'm talking to a lot of people," Jeffery said. "There's people from like, Minnesota and stuff like that. I thought that was pretty cool." 

Many students moving in are ready to adapt to ASU's COVID-19 policies in order to get the full college experience but hope classes stay in person. That includes a new policy that requires everyone to wear a mask in buildings where social distancing isn't possible.

READ MORE: Masks now required to be worn in certain ASU buildings

Lauren Quan, a freshman studying nursing, said wearing masks is part of what "normal" is now. "That's become such an everyday thing, I don't blink an eye to that," she said.

Students have spent over a year learning somewhat virtually, something Gabriel Colin, a freshman studying medical studies, said he does not want to get back to. 

"It would be very unfortunate if we ended up going back online," Colin said. "I'm sure absolutely no one truly liked that."

Students move into the Barrett, The Honors College dorms, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Tempe.

This semester, only about 400 sections will be delivered via ASU Sync, which allows students to choose in-person or remote learning, according to a University spokesperson. Most of the over 14,000 in-person sections in Fall 2020 were delivered through ASU Sync.

Multiple students said they are ready to live independently for the first time. Quan said she is eager for "the independence and just being away from my family, meeting new people." 

"I know in college, you make an effort to meet new people, and so I’m excited to do that and introduce myself," Quan said. 

The University is scheduled to move freshmen in on the Tempe campus until Sunday. Upperclassmen are set to move in from Aug. 16-18. 

Lindsey Bailey, a freshman studying criminology on the Downtown Phoenix campus, said the move-in process went smoothly, adding she was able to drop most of her belongings off before she was initially scheduled to move. Jeffery also described his move-in process on the Tempe campus as surprisingly easy. 

"We had all the boxes ready to go; I was pretty prepared to just lug everything up (to the room)," Jeffery said. "But you know, they had that whole team, and it was just like, 'OK, drop it off. You’re good.'" 

Raena Raebel, a community assistant in Taylor Place, said all the emotions the new students are feeling are normal, and University Housing is thrilled to have students back in the dorms. 

"I think the biggest thing for first year students to remember is that everyone is experiencing what they're experiencing: the uncertainty and the fear and the anxiety," said Raebel, a senior studying health care compliance and regulations. "Everyone has been stuck in their house for the last year and a half. Everyone wants friends. It's that traditional, freshman year of college nerves added with COVID nerves."

Quan hopes for a new normal to allow her to "see my friends and seeing people's faces instead of being holed up in your room, seeing everyone through a camera."

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