October 13, 2020

Freshmen, Fresh Out of Quarantine

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by Isabelle Pappas 

The method of college reopenings around the globe has been under public scrutiny during these initial weeks of the fall semester. Admins and students alike are being assessed on their ability to resume in-person instruction safely when very limited physical interaction is even deemed safe. Education systems are being tested, and the whole world is watching. 

One particular point of contention has been the freshmen class’ ability to comply with Cornell’s behavioral compact and CDC health guidelines. This assumption of irresponsible behavior dominating North Campus, perhaps premature, may be rooted less in the truth of the matter at Cornell but rather in media representations of other universities’ reopening experiences. In most recent news, Syracuse students held a party with hundreds of freshmen only days after move-in, resulting in 23 interim suspensions from the University. 

A similar issue was brought closer to home at Cornell and even closer to its North Campus when news spread of a not-so-socially distant party from freshman TikTok star, Jessica Zhang. The subsequent petition to get her scholarship rescinded should not be used to prove the freshmen’s irresponsibility in this reopening plan, but rather highlight the exact opposite: to shed light on the shaming culture permeating the freshman class and all classes for that matter. These freshmen are so eager to please that there is quite a cohort of them who won’t hesitate to call the CUPD on a noisier-than-usual cluster on any given Friday night. 

The class of 2024 disbanded, it seems, even before the start of the academic year.  According to the Hechinger Report, 16 percent of all high school seniors considered taking a gap year. Those who have surrendered themselves to the class of ’25 left the remaining admits floundering in a year already full of empty promises. If that’s not enough, the freshman class fractured themselves further between those who had decided to learn remotely for the semester and those who are currently dorming on campus. 

The freshmen this year had to make an extra effort to meet their new classmates in groups they deemed to be physically distant and in compliance with Cornell’s behavioral compact. For the first time ever, Orientation Week was entirely online, and most would agree on the fact that “speed friending” in Zoom boxes did little to foster new relationships among the participants. Many of our first days were spent unpacking alone and eating boxed meals in quarantine instead of meeting new faces and wandering the campus. We were dropped off with little to no instruction, left to fend for ourselves and navigate this entirely new environment in social isolation. 

Despite the hardships of move-in day and the 24-hour quarantine (14-day quarantine for some unfortunate newcomers from states on Cuomo’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory List), freshmen have finally begun to come out of their dorms and explore all that the campus has to offer. The comfortable end-of-summer weather in Ithaca and the campus’ aesthetic landscape made congregating outside more than just convenient, but enjoyable as well. Most freshmen have taken to congregating on the Slope, be it late on a Friday night for some fun or midweek for an outdoor study session. Freshmen have also come together to play spikeball and frisbee outside of Appel, the North Star Dining Hall. Tired of being cooped up in a dorm all day, some of us have even taken our computers to zoom on benches or in hammocks near our residence halls since ⅔ of our classes are now online

It’s true that Donlon remains steadfast in its reputation as the social dorm, and the others are by no means dead on a Saturday night. No global disaster seems to be able to eradicate the reputation of college night-life completely, but one benefit of these new regulations is that members of the same dorm hall tend to stick together. I’ve noticed much less mingling of freshmen across residence halls than I had originally imagined just by the virtue of the fact that the people in our own halls are the ones we see most. They’re most conveniently there to mingle with, so many of us tend not to stray too far from the people in our very own halls. Because a member of another dorm hall may only enter a different residence hall with an escort from that hall, there’s been less mixing of freshmen from different dorms. This organization of the freshman class by residence hall has come in handy during contact tracing efforts implemented by the University. 

The behavioral compact has required personal and social adjustments on everyone’s part, and the freshmen are no exception. From my personal experience, most freshmen have been compliant with the mask mandates and limited capacity rules in public spaces. The lounges inside residence halls are monitored closely by the RA’s who aren’t afraid to write a few of us up for any slight violation of the behavioral compact. Freshmen, I might argue, are being monitored much more closely than any other class here on campus because we remain primarily in the confines of North Campus, whereas the majority of upperclassmen and even some sophomores live in private houses in Collegetown. All freshmen are subject to the watchful eye of Housing and Residential Life at the university level, but the same cannot be said for ¾ of the student body. 

The behavioral compact has proved itself to be stronger than simply a paper tiger; Cornell actually came out with bite to its bark. In an interview with The Sun, Kotlikoff and Lombardi stated that “students violating the behavioral compact have been suspended and banned from campus [and that they] ‘will not shy away from continuing to impose such sanctions where appropriate.’” Many freshmen worked hard to get where they are today; they haven’t been, and, I trust, won’t be so foolish to jeopardize their spot in a nationally-ranked Ivy League simply for some college fun.

Isabelle Pappas can be reached at [email protected].