Olivia Diaz

Campus return: UR student captures a fall semester like no other

October 22, 2020

Campus Life

Olivia Diaz is a journalism and global studies major and the editor-in-chief for The Collegian, UR’s independent, student-run newspaper. She recently wrote a personal account of the first days back on campus during the pandemic, for Richmond Magazine. You can read her story below, and see the full article about Virginia students returning to campus in the October issue of the magazine.

Monday, Aug. 24

When I woke up this morning for the first day of my senior year at the University of Richmond, I was not anticipating opening my blinds and seeing a parking lot of 15 quarantine trailers. My new bedroom-window view is a daunting reminder of the risks of taking in-person classes during a pandemic.

Keeping COVID-19 at bay has become a part of my morning routine. I completed my daily symptom evaluation and checked my temperature. Classes can be taken either in person or virtually through Zoom. But I also got an email notifying me of a national Zoom outage, impeding students’ ability to attend class virtually. Thank goodness, I passed the evaluation and got cleared to go to in-person classes.

Walking around campus to my classes was probably the most social interaction I have had since March 2020. I would pass by friends, professors and mentors I had not seen in six months. My usual 10-minute walk across campus took 20 or 30 minutes. I was blinded a bit by hubris and the ability to talk to someone without a computer glitch. I did not want to pass up the opportunity to catch up on friends’ lives and to tell them how much I missed them. After all, an outbreak could occur tomorrow, for all I know.

All these new measures that I need to apply to my daily routine to keep people safe can seem overwhelming, but they’re doable.

Olivia Diaz

Journalism and global studies major

In-person learning this semester looks very different than what I have come to know these past three years. In my history course on Nazi Germany, each seat was exactly 6 feet apart, and everyone had to wear their mask at all times. Four of my classmates were attending the class virtually, and their webcam images were displayed on a monitor at the front of the classroom. There were wipes for in-person students to disinfect their seats before and after class.

This morning, I was so apprehensive to go to class for fear of contracting COVID-19. I am ending the day feeling, dare I say it, healthy. I hope that the rest of the week stays like this.

Tuesday, Aug. 25

There is something truly special about starting your morning class with a blanket in your lap and a university-provided couch as your desk. My first class today, Documentary Journalism, will be entirely online this semester at the discretion of my professor, even though the majority of my classmates are also on campus. In this course, my classmates and I will be making a documentary about an important subject that the UR community should know about. It is a bit difficult to film a documentary, given that social distancing is in place, masks could muffle sound and we cannot rent any equipment. Students are also asked not to go off campus throughout the semester, nor are visitors permitted on campus. Did I mention that three of my classmates are remote students who live outside of Richmond? It is quite the conundrum.

My next class was a biology course titled Emerging Infectious Diseases. I thought it would be a timely subject, if anything. This class takes place in an auditorium, and everyone has to sit in the same seat every class so that the professor can monitor contact tracing, should someone become ill.

My two friends and I met on a grassy hill behind my apartment after class to have a socially distant dinner. We each brought a portable beach chair to make sure we had something to sit on as we ate. Sitting on folding chairs on a grassy slope while trying to eat a slice of pizza was not easy. But it was wonderful simply to see friends who for so long were so far away from me.

Wednesday, Aug. 26

I found myself struggling to find somewhere to eat on campus for lunch. The Heilman Dining Center and the Alice Haynes Room Dining Hall are set up with buffet lines, where students do not touch the food yet get their meals at a proper social distance. At other on-campus dining locations, we can either wait in line for our food or order it online via Grubhub. The lines were a bit long. I was nervous about deciding where to eat and whether to stand in line for the dining hall. I decided to go back to my room and eat Cheez-Its, some ice cream, a cut-up raw pepper and anything else I could find in the refrigerator.

In returning to in-person classes, I am finding that I need to prioritize time management. I have been learning to set aside times throughout the day to get food from dining locations before it gets too crowded. I also have been trying to block out a period of the evening to disinfect my backpack and other everyday items.

In-person classes are great because I get to sit in a classroom and be in an academic environment. However, it is a responsibility, too. I need to make the health and safety of myself and others a priority. All these new measures that I need to apply to my daily routine to keep people safe can seem overwhelming, but they’re doable.  

Thursday, Aug. 27

I made it through the first week of school. Hallelujah! Although I know the workload will begin to pile on my desk soon enough, I still think I got through this week with panache, which is a relief.

My biology course had a lab period today that was scheduled to be three hours long. Our lab periods are now only an hour and a half long, with half of the students going into the lab for the first 90 minutes and the other students taking the latter hour and a half. Our experiments and what we can learn in the lab will be different, but I am excited that we still get to do some sort of hands-on activity.

UR’s vice president of student development, Steve Bisese, emailed students today, writing that our decisions this weekend will impact UR’s “ability to protect the health of students, staff, and faculty and to continue on campus this semester.” I looked on the COVID-19 dashboard and noticed that there were only two active cases of COVID-19 on campus. It is pretty incredible considering that 3,000 students moved in just this time last week.

I hope this weekend goes well and that we can stay on campus. I intend to get a head start on homework and catch up on some reading (it may be nerdy, but it’s true). I may hang out with some friends; up to four students who live in UR apartments are permitted to go into other students’ apartments as long as they wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines.

Before COVID-19, when I would walk across campus on a Thursday night, I would hear loud music and see groups of 10-20 students standing outside their dormitories ordering Uber or Lyft rides. Tonight, as I walked across campus, it was silent. Everyone was tucked away in their living spaces. Not a party in sight.

Although this week was different than anything I have ever experienced these past three years, I had missed being in Richmond. After the first week, I have realized more than anything how happy I am to be home.