A Very Different Kind of School Year
Our Commitment to Each Other: Welcoming First-Year Students
Hunter Anderson made good friends during his first-year orientation and wanted to help new students have a similar experience, despite very different times.
So Anderson ’23 spent a week in training and joined other orientation team members to welcome Davidson College newcomers and help them get settled into campus life. As classes move into full swing, Anderson hopes he impressed this upon them:
“Everybody in this community is here for you. It’s true, from your friends to your professors to the staff—everybody cares,” Anderson said. “When you go to Commons or Union, all the people working there are really nice, they’re going to get to know you, and there are times when they’ll really brighten your day.”
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, a cautious college is welcoming new and returning students with a message that caring for each other has never been more important. News headlines reinforce that. While many colleges have opted to go entirely online for the fall semester, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University started in-person classes and then abruptly sent students home after outbreaks.
Davidson’s hopes of remaining on-campus will hinge on a community-wide effort that follows months of extensive planning and preparation.
Students were all tested before they arrived, and the few with positive results remained at home for two weeks. Once on campus, all students are getting tested weekly. People who test positive will stay in separate quarters, with meals delivered to their doors. A student who had contact with another person who tests positive will be quarantined for two weeks. Classes are a combination of in-person and remote.
Students must wear masks in classrooms and all public places, and practice safe social distancing. Building Services workers spent the summer deep cleaning, sanitizing and rearranging furniture. They will sanitize classrooms between classes.
Parties are prohibited, and residence hall lounges have been temporarily shut to discourage gathering.
“This is a very different time for all of us,” said Walter Snipes, assistant dean of students and director of residence life. “Davidson is a very relational place—that ability to connect with others is what makes this a special place. Every day brings something new. Until we have a vaccine and have found a way to manage this virus our main priority is keeping people safe and healthy.”
Many students are navigating new ways to connect.
“We’re going to have to find different ways to do things we enjoy, but we’re still going to enjoy being at Davidson,” said Michelle Silver ’22, an orientation team member. “Before we got here, everyone was wondering what the year was going to look like, and they were nervous. Now I think people have accepted that we can still have events, and clubs, and friends, it might just be online or at a safe distance.
“Being safe is incredibly important, and I think people understand that,” Silver said. “They don’t want to be sent home.”
When everyone is moved in, some 1,500 will live in campus residence halls and apartments. About 320 will live off-campus and another 165 have opted to attend classes remotely.
First-year students arrived early for orientation. Returning students have staggered arrival move-in times, with everyone expected to be in place by early September. Tradition endures: New students, wearing masks and spaced apart, signed the college’s honor code. They also embarked on a service project, putting together homework, art and wellness kits for local non-profits Classroom Central, Hope House and Feed NC.
The 532 new students come from 41 states, Washington, D.C., and 22 countries. Some 118 are joining varsity sports teams; 41 are skilled visual and performing artists. The class of 2024’s members include a competitive bird watcher, a Falconer and a beekeeper and cellist who works on a cattle farm.
Sarah Woods ’21 said she became an orientation team member to help new students feel at home and become part of the college community, despite the challenges of the pandemic. It’s her last year at Davidson, and she wants to spend it on campus. She hopes that everyone understands the importance of complying with the college’s safety measures.
“America’s not doing such a great job on this front, but I hope Davidson will do much better,” Woods said. “I want to enjoy my classes and spend time with my friends in a safe way. This year will be different, but I think we can do it. “