A student studies in front of Tyler Haynes Commons

Scenes from the first day of the fall semester

August 25, 2020

Campus Life

As students returned to campus on Monday, they experienced a mix of emotions while attending in-person classes for the first time since March. Faculty, students and staff said they were enthusiastic to return even amid the challenges of a new, for now, normal. 

“While a bit strange, because things are noticeably different, I’m so happy to be back,” said Makayla Callender, a chemistry and healthcare studies major. “This past summer, I have missed seeing my friends and being on campus. Weirdly enough, I even missed living in a dorm. Now, even with all the restrictions, I’m so thankful that we have the opportunity to be back.”

Stephanie Dupaul, vice president for enrollment management, said the University is seeing strong enrollment in an unusual year. “That would not have occurred without the incredible efforts of the entire campus.”

Owen Fleming, a first-year undeclared student, agreed it was nice to be back in person, while noting the new safety procedures. 

“I’m really looking forward to the first week of classes and to begin my Richmond experience,” Fleming said. “The health and safety protocols on campus are relatively easy to follow. The only things that are actually inconvenient are the one-way doors and stairways, but we have to remember that these are in place for a reason.”

Daniel Larson, a biochemistry major, said he was enjoying seeing friends again, even at a distance. 

“I'm fortunate enough to be living in an apartment this year, so I can cook my own meals with my roommates and spend time in the living room. As for others who might be situated in a 10x10 dorm room and eat D-Hall all year, I think it will be a lot more challenging to stay put and distance.”


Students were in good spirits, and even though they were far away and masked, or on a computer screen, it’s great to be back in the classroom with them.
headshot of Julie Pollock
Julie Pollock

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Psychology professor Scott Allison addressed some of the challenges on the first day by asking his students how they were doing. “They were glad to be back on campus and happy to see their friends and professors,” Allison said, “but at the same time they were nervous, confused, and uncertain about the future. We talked about how these emotions were normal and good to have, and that research has shown that it is very possible to experience contradictory emotions simultaneously.”

Allison discussed with his classes the idea of coping strategies “such as developing the habit of optimism, expressing gratitude, letting go of things we can't control, and developing resilience.”

One potential hurdle that was identified early was a widespread Zoom outage that affected schools and workers around the country. 

The University saw problems arise around 9 a.m. but they were resolved in a few hours, said Keith McIntosh, Richmond’s vice president for Information Services and Chief Information Officer.

“This issue impacted users differently,” McIntosh said. “We didn’t receive a high volume of calls or service requests about the outage. Our information services team worked closely with the campus community to keep them informed and to provide support while communicating with Zoom about a resolution.”

Students said they were looking forward to classes and seeing friends while acknowledging the challenges.

Chemistry professor Julie Pollock said she ran into a few technology hiccups but noted that the first day of class went better than she expected. 

“From speaking with my colleagues this afternoon, everyone seemed to have at least one issue during their class, but most people seem optimistic,” Pollock said. “The students were in good spirits, and even though they were far away and masked, or on a computer screen, it’s great to be back in the classroom with them.”

Law Professor Mary Kelly Tate said she’s hoping the pandemic section on her syllabus set the right tone for supporting her students this fall. “I felt with the pandemic's enormity we needed to hit it straight on,” Tate said. 

She wrote to her students: “It is my hope that we will create a community in which we can provide each other compassion, show each other respect, cultivate intellectual curiosity and humility, and use humor and life experience to bring our classroom as much joy, enrichment, and learning as we can while living under circumstances, which are often, or maybe always for some of us, bewildering and sorrowful.” 

When asked about her classroom experience, Tate jokingly admitted that she was nervous about having so many cords. “I’m notoriously bad with technology, so making sure my classes are available to our remote students is a challenge, but one I’m working through with my great colleagues — staff and faculty — and awesome students." 

Accounting Professor Nancy Bagranoff enjoyed the mix of remote and Zoomed-in students.

“I asked each student what they liked about the pandemic — yes, liked — and their answers were great,” Bagranoff said. “Most cited the time they got to spend with their families and their pets. They also noted that they were enjoying the outdoors more. Two of my classes are in the Halftime House at the football stadium. We all agree that it’s a really fun venue. There may not be football this fall, but there is an accounting class in a football stadium.”

Allison said he was finding the Zoom chat feature was helpful in smoothing out the experience. “It all went well,” he said. “I think we should have a fine semester no matter what happens.”

Top photo: Amara Taylor studies outside of Tyler Haynes Commons on Monday, the first day of the fall semester.