With this year’s return to school, many students are attending class without a mask for the first time. Most 2024 graduates began their university careers in 2020, a year that will forever be known for the introduction of COVID-19 to the east coast. With the looming threat of the pandemic, classes were moved online, social events were cancelled, and students were reduced to an internet icon or masked face. Since 2020, restrictions have been lifted with a slow progression. I spoke to a fourth-year Mt. A student on this topic, discussing their experience of the restrictions and how these affected their time at university.
Catherine French is a fourth-year Bachelor of Arts student excited to graduate with majors in psychology and commerce in the Spring of 2024. Originally hailing from Moncton, New Brunswick, Catherine admits that the pandemic had a large impact on why she chose Mt. A as the university to pursue her undergraduate degree. Amongst the chaos and uncertainties, French, like most individuals, had the desire to remain close to home. This generation of university students had a unique experience, choosing the next path of their lives while living in isolation from peers. French labels this generation the “COVID generation,” touching on what she perceives as an added difficulty in meeting new people due to the restrictions set in place. She classifies herself as a part of this generation, having graduated from high school and begun university in 2020. A large characteristic of this antisocial behavior is the decreased frequency of students engaging in conversations with classmates. French attributes this to the online format of classes in her starting years at Mt. A: “Online I would not meet anyone through a class, the people I met in the first year were people I met in person through the residence.” Yet, hope for social relationships is not lost on the COVID generation. Despite the isolating start, Catherine shared that since the transition to in-person classes, she has been able to meet classmates, forming what she labels as “class buddies.”
In addition to relationships with classmates, students’ relationships with their professors were also affected by COVID-19 restrictions. With faces being covered by a video icon or a mask, professors and students could not develop recognition and camaraderie, a distinguishing trait of the small Mt. A community. During our discussion, Catherine touched on this point, expressing how her relationship with her professors has shifted throughout her time at Mt. A. Catherine reflected on her first year of university, remembering that she did not often speak to her professors online. Since the transition to the in-person format, Catherine has expressed a greater ease in creating relationships with her professors. Being able to approach professors at the end of class with a question is much more engaging than waiting for an email response. This sentiment is not held solely by students, as a learning environment facilitated through email rather than direct conversations affects professors as well through their ability to engage with their students.
Alongside relationships made through academic learning, the learning itself was also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition from online classes to in-person classes was a learning curve for many students who had only known university through open book tests and examinations. For this reason, French discloses her enjoyment of online school, yet admits she learns better by attending in-person classes. During an online class, distractions can pose a major threat. With the anonymity of the computer screen, many students report finding it difficult to stay focused during class with distractions in their immediate surroundings. In addition to the difference in the learning environment from online to in-person, French also marks a distinction between the necessity and choice of wearing a mask to classes. In terms of attending classes with a mask, French declares that she, “is not a fan.” The stance develops strongly from her experience of wearing a mask with her glasses. She elaborated with stories of her glasses fogging up and the suffocating atmosphere of a packed, hot classroom.
In full, the class of 2024 has certainly seen it all. From full semesters delivered through a computer to emergency changes of format due to an outbreak, these graduating students have learned to expect the unexpected. Resilience has most certainly been a common theme throughout these four years, learning to adapt to changing conditions to maintain as much safety for the Mt. A and Sackville community as could be provided. As these students begin their first semester of maskless in-person university classes, they harness one more form of learning and engaging with peers. Cheers to their accomplishments, and never forgetting to protect the Sackville bubble!