COVID-19 on Campus: Three Undergraduate Women Talk Life at Yale During the Pandemic

Headshots of the Interviewees

In photo, from left to right: Caroline Magavern BK '21, Stephanie Corona SB '23, Grace Dietz '24 BF

Everyone is masked; everyone is tested for COVID-19 twice a week; everyone tries to maintain a 6-foot distance and meet, eat, and socialize outside where it’s safer. While Yale University has, in a limited way, welcomed most students back to campus, student life is anything but normal.

Most classes are held via Zoom; dining halls are “takeout only;” most facilities are closed; and any gatherings are limited in size and held under strict social distancing rules. How is this affecting Yale students? Recently, we caught up with three undergraduates to find out first-hand.

Here’s what they had to say.

 

Stephanie Corona, '23, Saybrook. Stephanie is an Economics major from Westchester, NY. She is one of the few sophomores who has physically returned to New Haven (to keep overall numbers down, sophomores have been prohibited from living on campus for the fall semester).  Stephanie is living off campus. Here’s her perspective:

I currently spend most of my day in my room attending back-to-back class sessions via Zoom. I’m not attending any classes in person, relying on Zoom for lectures, discussion sections, and meetings with professors. Zoom can get very tedious when technological difficulties get in the way of the learning experience. And it feels strange not being able to interact in person and casually discuss material with other students sitting next to me while waiting for classrooms to fill up and class to start. 

However, the online experience has provided some great opportunities. Most professors now record their lectures, which provides a great resource when it comes to studying or working on problem sets. Also, I was given permission to take two courses that I am very interested in, Macroeconomics and Psychology, even though they take place at the exact same time. Asynchronous attendance has allowed me the opportunity to tailor my course schedule to my interests and take care of my daily tasks at my own pace. 

When I am not waiting for my next class to begin, I am running downstairs for a snack or to heat up some leftovers before returning back to my desk to work. I am forced to rely on social media and technology to communicate with my friends, some of whom I will not see in person for a while because they have chosen to take a leave of absence for the entire school year, due partially to the fact that sophomores were not allowed on campus this fall. 

I miss being able to grab lunch with friends and not having to think or worry about how close I am standing to the stranger next to me. In a way it feels like we are more closed off to building new relationships and exploring new things. I also miss being able to casually roam the streets of New Haven. 

But overall, I think this situation will only serve to make us that much more grateful for everything we have and are able to experience. When things do get better and all the regulations and social distancing measures are put to an end we will have a more appreciative mindset. I personally took several things for granted before the pandemic and it took fearing the worst to really put insignificant stressors into perspective. I now value my friendships and well-being a lot more and have a stronger determination to live life one day at a time without focusing on the next accolade to be obtained.”

 

Caroline Magavern, ’21, Berkeley. Caroline, who is taking a leave of absence for the fall semester but is continuing to live in New Haven, is an Environmental Studies major from Buffalo, NY. She was the General Manager of WYBC Yale Radio and is currently senior editor of the Yale Literary Magazine. She is spending her semester off working as an intern for radio station WSHU, an NPR affiliate operated by Sacred Heart University of Westport, CT.

“I am living off-campus with five roommates in downtown New Haven, not too far from campus. Two of my roommates are enrolled in their senior year at Yale. I’m in New Haven because I was living here this summer, working in person at the New Haven Land Trust and now I have the internship with WSHU. I also had committed to living in my off-campus house and wanted to spend time with my friends who are not taking a leave of absence. 

I chose not to enroll for the semester mainly for academic reasons. My online courses in the spring were a fairly negative experience. And when I looked at the course offerings for the fall, I didn't feel like I would be able to complete the course of study I had been planning. My academic focus is in the environmental humanities, specifically in urban studies classes, and I didn't feel that these courses translated well into an online format.  

Most of my friends are enrolled, and most of them are living off-campus now. For them, it seems like the course enrollment process was very stressful and confusing, but now the Zoom classes in general seem to be working more smoothly. Campus was pretty empty this summer, so it's strange to see more people walking around now, but it doesn't feel overly crowded. 

Today, my socializing mostly involves taking walks or having a picnic with friends. I think I miss the chance encounters the most. College is special because of unexpected things that can happen during the walks to class, in a dining hall, at a guest speaker's lecture, or at a party. Not being in a room with others for class makes discussion much more stilted and prevents some of the tangential conversations that end up being exciting and important. It feels like a big part of my college experience has been closed off because I have to carefully plan my time and limit interactions with others. 

Looking ahead post-pandemic, I think it's likely that some courses will utilize online learning to a greater extent, although I think it only makes sense in certain cases, such as larger STEM lectures. I think that our normal dining hall system was incredibly wasteful, so I could also imagine the dining halls being reinvented. 

And a side note: I'm disappointed that Yale has not eliminated the student income contribution in its financial aid packages, even during a global pandemic."

 

Grace Dietz, ’24, Benjamin Franklin. Grace is a first-year from Phoenix, AZ. Her major is undeclared so far, but “if I make it through my first chem class” she would “love” to major in Environmental Studies or Engineering. At the time we spoke, she had just finished her two weeks of quarantine within Ben Franklin College and had walked around Yale for the first time.

“Everyone came about two weeks ago to campus, and then they were given a COVID test and had to isolate in their rooms until they got a negative test result back.  I was there for 20 hours, but I know some people had to stay in their rooms for 48 hours. Once you got a negative test result, you could leave your room, but you couldn’t leave your residential college for the next two weeks. 

When I’m not in my room Zooming, I’m spending time in the courtyard, playing spike ball or eating. My college is at about 60% capacity. It feels pretty empty, and it feels to me like the majority of the people here are first-years.

I think no one will have the same bonding experience as the Class of ’24. It’s a very different experience, because usually everyone’s on Old Campus and you get to know your suitemates first, and then everyone else. But now, we’re all stuck together and we’re the only people we’ve been able to interact with for two weeks. 

I think the Class of 2024 has been very innovative in terms of making friends with each other. I’ve spent more time playing spike ball in the last two weeks than in my entire life. We’ve traded food with each other. I think about the athletes running 6 miles within the courtyard because they have to keep up their fitness and they can’t leave the college. These are experiences that no other class will have. 

Everyone wears masks on campus. They test us twice a week. Most of the Yale facilities are closed, although the libraries are open with social distancing in place. The dining halls just have takeout food—they cook it, and then put it in something so we eat it elsewhere because the dining areas are closed. Mostly we eat outside; I don’t know what we’re going to do when the weather gets cold. 

When I was finally able to leave the college a day or two ago and walk around New Haven, it felt surreal. I was joking to my friends that it was like going to Disneyland. Everyone’s wearing masks. It’s kind of cool seeing people that you saw in a Zoom class, but now you’re seeing them in person. It’s interesting meeting people online before you meet them in person – it kind of changes the dynamic a little bit.

All of my classes are on Zoom except my Chemistry lab, but that hasn’t started yet.  So I haven’t as yet been to any in-person classes. Most of the classes will continue to be completely online through this semester. Office hours will become in person once the situation gets a little more settled, but for now, they’re online too.

Zoom fatigue is real. But I think it varies from professor to professor. Some professors have approached Zoom as a way to use technology that they haven’t yet explored. So I know that one of my first-year seminar professors is having a lot of guest lecturers. That’s something new; because we’re all online, you can basically ask anyone who has access to Wifi to come to your class. Before, you’d have to arrange for travel, accommodations and things like that. So that’s kind of cool, you have access to anyone to speak to your class. 

Something else that’s helpful is that we have a little meditation before each session. It’s especially hard when you’re working from the same space that you’re sleeping in.  Sometimes I get to go outside and to the library, but the majority of my day is spent at my desk. So I like the opportunity to use this meditation to separate myself from my working space and my relaxation space.

Overall, I’m glad I came and didn’t delay until next year. I feel very grateful that I have the privilege of going to college and I feel safe being here. I think that’s an enormous feat, to allow students on campus and make them feel safe, so kudos to Yale. I think the testing twice a week is a huge difference, and also allows you to contact trace and mitigate the risk.  

I feel a responsibility to New Haven because I know it was not the choice of anyone here to have students come from around the world to their city. The only thing I’d change is that Yale really emphasizes that Yale is in New Haven, so we all have a responsibility to keep the community safe. We get tested twice a week, but there are a lot of people in New Haven who don’t have that luxury. So we have to do our part."

 

 

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