Back on Campus: Student Perspective

Lydia McFarlane

When COVID-19 swept the global community back in March of 2020, education at all levels was forced to adapt. Like many other colleges, the University closed campus for the remainder of the academic year, allowing students to finish their semesters virtually to mitigate the spread of the highly transmissible coronavirus. For the 2020-21 academic year many college campuses, the University included, decided to bring students back to campus, although campus life was much different than in normal years. 

Students were expected to wear masks at all times, except when eating or drinking or in their assigned dorm rooms. There was surveillance testing for the virus, and many classes were still taught in completely virtual or hybrid modalities. However, with the development of the coronavirus vaccines and the FDA emergency use authorization for the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in early 2021 – and subsequent full authorization for the Pfizer vaccine – the University has just begun a new, and somewhat normal, Fall 2021 semester. 

On June 3, University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D., announced in an email to the community that COVID-19 vaccines would be required by Aug. 1 for those wishing to return to campus this fall. Upon the start of the academic year, the vaccination rate for the community was 93% which quickly rose to 95%, according to another email from the Office of the President on Aug. 23.

Due to the mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine and the University’s high vaccination rate, this semester is looking much more normal than the past two years. In an Aug. 12 email from the Office of the President, the guidelines for a return to campus in the fall were outlined. These guidelines included: no masks are required outdoors for fully vaccinated Villanovans, masks are optional indoors for vaccinated students, masks are required inside for non-vaccinated students, visitors to campus are required to wear masks indoors, masks are encouraged for those who go off campus and into the surrounding community, twice weekly testing required for the unvaccinated population, diagnostic testing available for those who need it and everything is back to full capacity. 

Although masks are not required indoors for vaccinated individuals, professors are able to decide whether or not they will require masks within their classrooms. 

“The high vaccination rate on campus allows us to ease most of the mitigation measures from this past year, while still providing the safest possible environment,” Father Peter said in the email. 

Many students are grateful for the University’s administration mandating the vaccine.

“The 95% vaccination rate on campus has been really comforting,” sophomore Jordan Mastrodomenico said. 

After not having a full or normal school year since their sophomore year of high school, University freshmen are eager to be on campus and in the classroom. 

“Having in-person classes after being mostly virtual the past two years is extremely refreshing,” freshman Brooke Fisher said. “After experiencing the several inconsistencies of my senior year of high school, getting back to some sense of normalcy, as a college freshman, honestly feels great.”

After a normal senior year cut short and a very unprecedented freshman year of college, University sophomores are happy to be back to somewhat normal circumstances. 

“I am most excited to be able to go to events and activities unmasked because it is nice to see everyone’s faces,” Mastrodomenico  said.

“I was surprised at how crowded our facilities are, but it is definitely nice to see people out and about,” said sophomore Kylie Horan. 

For many University seniors, it is hard to believe that they are in their final year, as they were in their sophomore year when the initial shutdown happened in March of 2020. 

“Honestly, the years once the pandemic hit went by insanely fast,” senior Isaac Deleon said. “I don’t really feel like a senior, since all the years were sort of blurred over the pandemic.”

However, Deleon and likely many other seniors are grateful to be back to a sense of normalcy for their last year.  

“There were some things that I wished I got to do, but I think I really made the most out of what we had,” Deleon said. 

Although many of the past years’ strict rules have been lightened if not dissolved, students still worry about a return to stricter measures as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to develop. As of Tuesday night, there have been a total of 36 cumulative cases at Villanova since August 17, according to the Covid-19 Dashboard that the University is continuing to update daily. 

“Although it is nice to have everything back to full capacity and mostly normal, I am worried about the possible loss of in person extracurriculars due to rising COVID-19 cases,” an anonymous sophomore student said. 

Although some students are nervous regarding COVID-19, others are very hopeful that this new normal is here to stay. 

“I think the university’s vaccination rate is high enough that I don’t really see any issues that could come up, even with the new variants,” Fisher said. “I’d be surprised if Villanova went into ‘lockdown’ again, but I hope it doesn’t so everyone can get a great college experience. I definitely am somewhat uneasy in regard to starting the new school year due to missing most of my senior year. However, putting those troubles aside, I am definitely ready to get my learning on at Villanova to compensate for any of the material [socially and academically] I missed in high school.” 

Students can be described as hesitantly hopeful for the remainder of the semester after a successful first week of fully in-person, and many unmasked, classes.