‘New Normal’ For College Freshmen Continues Over a Year After Start of Pandemic

By Brianna Bush

The fall semester marks a “new normal” for students as they navigate college amid the pandemic. Along with college life, for some freshmen, this is their first time returning to in-person learning while others have fully adapted to the “new normal.”

“First-year students are having a different experience transitioning [into college] as a result of COVID-19,” said Anayah Walker, an academic program specialist for student transition and persistence. “I think it’s less about it not being normal, I think it’s just the new normal.”   

The “new normal” means that freshmen are readjusting to academics and social interactions all while being in a college environment.

“They went from being in high school to experiencing a lot of the remote learning and then now they’re back on a college campus that is fully back in person,” said Walker.

The anticipation about college amid the pandemic yields different perceptions.

“It was definitely a big transition, and with COVID and being online for most of my senior year [of high school] it made the transition seem a lot more overwhelming at the time,” said Llana Hunter, freshman psychology major.

For other students who have adapted to the “new normal,” their semester hasn’t been much of a change for them.

Freshman Kendall Lucas said that academically she did not need to adjust.

“I did my last year of high school in person wearing a mask rather than doing online classes because this is similar to the way classes are done at UT this year,” said Lucas.

The Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan requires the UT community, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear face masks while indoors.

“I’m used to wearing my mask everywhere so wearing one in the residence halls and dining halls isn’t a huge adjustment,” said Lucas. “Other than wearing masks, the pandemic hasn’t impacted my time at UT very dramatically.”

According to Walker, who is also a first-year seminar instructor, another “new normal” is virtual events.

“We can’t pretend like we didn’t have a year of doing everything online because now students need that,” said Walker. “You have more students who, whether it’s because they’re working or they’re a commuter now, having these virtual events is sometimes helpful for them.”

And since the “new normal” varies for every student, UT offers resources to help those who may have a hard time adapting.

“Being from the northeast and coming down here was scary at first but I think UT did a great job helping students get acclimated to the environment before classes got tougher,” said Hunter.

To avoid stress and anxiety when going through the highs and lows of college, Alisha Menzies, a communications professor who teaches first-year students, advises students and faculty to communicate deadlines and plan ahead.

“I think that students are giving their best effort to acclimate again,” said Menzies “But, faculty and students have to work together because neither of us thought about this [the pandemic] coming.”  

UT also assists students by offering counseling services to those who may need support during this time.

As students and faculty continue to adapt, Walker believes the “new normal” may be here to stay.

“I don’t think that there will ever be a time where we no longer have virtual meeting options,” said Walker. I think even departments got used to virtual things and were like this is working, let’s just keep this.”

Photo Courtesy of Tampa Bay Times.

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