Driving onto Haverford’s campus, commuters pass the rows of familiar trees now changing colors and peaceful Duck Pond. Students bustle from building to building, while Founders Hall stands proudly in the middle of the action. Life seems to be continuing on as usual. However, upon closer inspection, life at Haverford has changed just as much as the world outside. Large white tents cover the space outside dorms. Blue tape marks the areas where students can and cannot sit. Libraries once filled with a fervent, studious energy appear like a movie set. Even the black squirrels on the flags don tiny masks. As the semester nears its halfway point, students have begun to adjust to a new normal.
COVID-19 restrictions have already drastically altered both academic and social life at Haverford’s campus. Online classes are particularly challenging for a school that prides itself on low student-to-teacher ratios and fostering connections between faculty and students. Emma Souter ’21 remarks that one of the most difficult shifts has been “taking a class without ever meeting my professor and building that relationship, especially since that was the main draw of a liberal arts school.”
While some students are taking a hybrid of online and in person classes, many only have classes over Zoom. Jia-Ming Tuan ’21 notes, “It’s very weird that I’ve been at school here for almost a month, and I have yet to step into a single academic building.” In addition to missing interaction with professors, Zoom classes and regulations on social gatherings have made it difficult for incoming freshmen to meet new people.
First year Magdalena Del Valle ’24 explains, “When I pictured my first semester, I saw myself at many different social gatherings, surrounded by a lot of people whom I would be able to talk to and befriend. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and even though I have made friends, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to make more.”
Del Valle is far from alone in her experience and sentiments. Older students have also found the restrictions challenging. Souter notes, “I miss the ease of social interaction. I have best friends I still haven’t hugged.”
In addition to academics being closed, other frequently visited campus spaces are restricted as well. The Dining Center, which traditionally serves as a hub for students, is currently doing takeout only. Tuan reflects, “I miss having the DC as a place to see friends I don’t live or study with. I have always found meals to be such a fun and social activity because you almost get to see all your friends at once since we only have one dining center.”
Despite these barriers, the Haverford community has banned together to make this semester’s experience as positive as possible. The interviews highlighted faculty and staff, who working overtime to ensure the success, happiness, and safety of the community. Even in a pandemic, some things about Haverford never change. Souter raves, “the DC workers are still all such gems and the professors are great, even if they’re forever technologically challenged.”
Additionally, students are coming up with more creative ways to stay entertained and bond with their suitemates. Isabel Arya ’24 remarks, “I have been so amazed by the commitment of everyone on campus to find such joy and positivity in our classes, friendships, and extracurricular activities. In the absence or reconfiguration of many typical social events, people have come up with such creative ways to cultivate community, which has made college in a pandemic so much safer and more fun than I could have imagined.” Del Valle echoes Arya’s remarks, stating “I am really enjoying being around such a caring and genuinely nice community. After months of only seeing my family, I am really enjoying other people’s company, and I really appreciate being surrounded by engaging, kind, and vibrant peers.”
The beautiful outdoor spaces on campus have also proved a sanctuary for students. In the still-warm fall weather, students are frequently seen picnicking on the lawns and getting out for walks. Souter ’21 jokes, “I have walked the nature trail more times in the month we’ve been back than in my four years at Haverford, so that’s been a really great destresser.”
There is some concern amongst the student body about the effect on the impending winter weather on outdoor activities. William Moore ’23 reflects “I am very concerned about [cold/flu season] given how it’s already getting colder, socializing with people is going to get harder. I’m already skeptical of how safe the tents the administration set up truly are, but regardless we don’t have enough tent space for everyone. I’m worried that the next month will prove even more isolating for people than the last one.”
Despite the doubts and questions looming over the rest of the year, Haverford College remains a place of deep community. In typical Haverford fashion, students remain flexible with a new way of life during the pandemic and are anxiously awaiting the time where they can fully join their friends and professors once again.