This year’s college freshmen have been through it all: their senior year of high school was cut short, their high school graduations were modified or cancelled altogether and they spent months at home with their summer plans uprooted. After all this, Clemson freshmen moved into their college dorms a month later than most and spent the majority of the fall semester participating in Zoom classes. Many freshmen struggled to meet new people due to limitations on social gatherings.
The Tiger spoke to freshmen around campus about their experiences this semester. Overall, people involved in organized activities like Greek life reported having better experiences socially. Freshmen also seem to be leaning on social media more heavily as a way to meet new people. Several students said they have made social connections on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and through Facebook groups.
Many freshmen echoed the difficulties of online learning and expressed their desire for more in-person instruction in the spring. “I look forward to coming back next semester and hopefully having more in-person classes,” said Ellis Bryant, an electrical engineering major.
Bryant was moving out of his dorm room in Lever Hall on a Saturday afternoon, assisted by his dad and younger sister. He said the biggest way he made social connections this semester was by playing beach volleyball outside Calhoun Courts.
Marcus Keane, an electrical engineering major, was eating dinner in Douthit Hills with his roommate Bryce Morris on a Friday evening. Keane said this semester has helped him grow as an adult and that he has enjoyed meeting new people. Morris, an economics major, said he has enjoyed this semester but has struggled with online learning. “I’m a better in-person learner...I like being face-to-face.”
Garrison Bishop, a mechanical engineering major, and Manav Bava, a physics major, are high school friends. They still hang out with their group of friends from their high school in Spartanburg, but have also made new friends through class projects.
Bishop and Bava both said it has been hard to navigate online learning. “It’s a lot harder to communicate with professors because you can’t just walk into class one day and ask them a question, you have to email them,” Bishop said.
Bava said it is easy to get confused with all the different platforms his professors use to post assignments, including Pearson Math Lab, WebWorks, Expert TA, zyBooks, iClicker and Top Hat. “You can get lost and miss due dates,” he said.
Joey Foley, a pre-business major, said he is used to online learning. “Considering we had to start transitioning to online [classes] in high school, it hasn’t been that hard academically. Socially, it hasn’t been that hard reaching out to new people because we have social media.” He has also met a lot of new people through the fraternity he is pledging.
Grace, an elementary education major, and Sarah, a pre-business major, are new friends who met through a campus ministry. They chose to omit their last names for this article. Sarah said her favorite parts of college so far are living with her friends and having the freedom to make her own schedule. “It’s been really hard to meet people, but I’m grateful to be here,” she said.
Caroline Furman is a Spanish and international health major who plans to switch to health science. The start of her college experience has been shaped by the pandemic. Early in the semester, she was exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Sitting outside on a bench in Bryan Mall, she told her quarantine story. “I got sent into quarantine within less than a week of being on campus,” she said. Despite testing negative for the virus, she and her roommate were sent to a quarantine space at the Best Western Plus hotel in Clemson.
They were given the option to self-quarantine in their residence hall, but they still would have had to use the hall bathroom and go to the dining hall for meals. Furman said she and her roommate take COVID-19 seriously and did not want to risk infecting their hallmates, so they opted to quarantine at the hotel instead.
They were placed in an interior room with no windows, which Furman said was difficult to cope with. “It was exhausting. My sleep schedule got really messed up. I would sleep all day and be up all night because it didn’t feel like the time changed.”
The two girls stayed in their hotel room for 14 days without leaving. Furman said she contacted the people in charge of quarantine housing at Clemson, who told her she could go for a walk outside. However, when she called the employees at the front desk of the hotel, they told her she could not go outside or even into the hallway.
The experience took a toll on her academic performance. “I don’t think I really opened my computer because I was just so stressed and overwhelmed,” she said. “I had a really hard time keeping up with classes and staying motivated.”
Though Furman stayed in a room with no exterior windows, she did have a window that opened up to a corridor through which she could speak to the people getting out of the elevator. When new students arrived to quarantine, she added them to a Snapchat group so they would all feel a little less alone.
Her mom became an advocate for students in quarantine, offering tips to parents of Clemson students in isolation through a Facebook group.
Furman hopes the university will provide more in-person events next semester, even if they are socially distanced. She said that most freshmen have had a difficult time meeting people, unless they are in a sorority or fraternity. “I don’t think I’ve talked to a single person who feels like they’ve had a fair freshman experience.”
Whether they have contracted the virus or not, thousands of freshmen at Clemson University and thousands more students across the country have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning, social barriers and health concerns have undoubtedly marked the start of a rocky first semester for many students.
However, it appears that university administration has heard the outcry for a more ‘normal’ college experience. Clemson University President Jim Clements announced on Nov. 6 that the university plans to offer more traditional-style courses in the spring.
With a solidified testing strategy and a vaccine on the horizon, Clemson University students can look forward to the days when they can fill academic buildings, gather for club meetings and crowd Memorial Stadium to cheer on the Tigers once again.