Back to school for Beacons: returning during COVID-19

View of the Campus Center Upper Level from floor two.

School is back in session for UMass Boston’s Beacons, and this year students and staff are returning to campus with bright minds in their heads and masks on their faces. After over a year of remote learning, in-person classes were more than welcomed by much of the students and staff. However, the transition certainly has not been easy. Though the in-person year is greatly appreciated by students and staff alike, the transition has not been without its flaws, nor its joyous occasions, either. 

    On May 6, 2021, Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco announced to the entire UMass Boston community that the 2021-2022 school year would return to being completely in person, as long as students and staff continued to wear masks and get vaccinated. Suárez-Orozco stated in his message to the entire UMass Boston community:

    “We believe that we will have—and that you should plan for—a full return to campus for all students, faculty, and staff in fall 2021. We expect mostly face-to-face instruction, full residence halls, available dining, and a full complement of student events, activities, and support services.” (1)

    Since this announcement, the campus has returned to full capacity as it planned for. Though the return back to campus has been welcomed with open arms by the UMass Boston community, the transition hasn’t been without some difficulties. As freshman Jessica Micozzi said:

“Everything in the transition has been pretty difficult. Last year in all my classes and with all my teachers, as long as you did your work, you passed, so I have to relearn a lot of things, as well as adjust to the normal college life.” 

For students coming to campus for the first time, these difficulties have only been multiplied. Whether these students are first or second-years or transfers, the idea of coming to campus and having to locate classes, make friends and meet people, and grasp the understanding of how in-person college classes are structured can be stressful. Though the returning third and fourth-year students will most likely need a refresher on the campus's layout—especially with all of the construction—finding classes and adjusting to the college lifestyle is far more challenging for the newer students. As second-year Elda Ramierz said: 

“It’s been really hard to talk to people in general. I was pretty outgoing and talkative before the pandemic but got quiet during quarantine, so I’m trying to get back into it, but it has been difficult. I’ve been trying to talk to people here on campus. However, most people are paranoid about socializing in person because of the pandemic.” 

Returning students who have had some experience on campus agree. As junior Madelyn Strike said: 

“This year it’s been harder to randomly chat with people. If people can, they’ll leave space in between seats to be compliant with social distancing guidelines which makes small talk more difficult, and masks make it hard to read people’s facial expressions and see if they want to talk. It’s way harder than my freshman year.”

However, the in-person environment has caused several students to express the ease of meeting people and making friends. Students living in the residence halls, as well as many other students, have been provided many opportunities to meet people and socialize. In addition to this, some students have said other students have been more open to meeting people, since many people are in a similar scenario. As first-year Jeremiah Loziushe said: 

“I feel like it’s been easier to meet people, especially since freshmen and sophomores are new here, so I’ve met a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. Everyone is new, so no one really started out having friends, so it’s been a lot easier for me personally.” 

As to be expected with attending classes during a global pandemic, there is a bit of stress over health and safety in the classrooms. Though UMass Boston continues to try and keep its students and staff healthy and safe with mask protocols and vaccinations, there is only so much that can be done in a large school. As senior Jay Rosado said: 

“It’s a little unnerving being in class. We were supposed to be three feet apart in the classrooms, but still at full capacity, which didn’t make a ton of sense, but in most classes we’re packed in shoulder to shoulder. I know they’ll try to keep us safe, but it’s still stressful.”

The transition from online learning back to in-person classes has also impacted the staff of the university. Professors—as well as other faculty and staff members who work for the back end of UMass Boston—had to modify how they work and help those around them succeed. Whether this was allowing more accommodations for students, extensions and grace periods, or generally adjusting to the online world, the pandemic has greatly impacted staff members. As History professor Heidi Gengenbach said: 

“I’m usually a big stickler for writing assignments, grammar, and proper punctuation, but I’ve definitely eased up on the amount of stressors I put on students, considering everything they’re dealing with. I’ve cut back on the amount of readings for this semester, but I still try to maintain a clear set of standards, since I think that’s important for us to have. I feel more relaxed in the classroom, and I’m more able to meet students where they are.”

Attending college normally can be overwhelming for many, not accounting for the added stressors of a global pandemic. Both students and staff are adjusting and learning to this new world and environment, and it will certainly take time to get used to how the campus is being run. As CLA First! advisor Lauren Haugh said: 

“Give yourselves [the students of UMass Boston] some grace. Give the faculty and staff some grace—we’re all coming back together, and we don’t have all the answers as we’re all still learning about this and how to operate together in this world. Just know that we as faculty and staff are here for you for support.” 

  1. https://www.umb.edu/the_university/chancellor/communications/return_to_campus 

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