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First years navigate transition to college during COVID

Despite limitations associated with pandemic, many first years say they are just happy to be here

On Tuesday, members of the University’s class of 2024 proceeded up College Street and through the historic Van Wickle gates that mark the entrance to Brown’s campus, engaging in a ritual that only takes place twice a year to herald the entrance of first years and the exit of graduating seniors.

The assembled throng looked somewhat different from incoming classes of years’ past. Broken up into COVID-safe groupings, with students wearing winter jackets rather than the summery outfits spotted at traditional September convocations, the entering class of first year students commemorated the start to an unprecedented year with an unprecedented take on the typical ceremony.

This is just one of many unique circumstances the class of 2024 has faced as they begin college during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In spite of the many safety guidelines constraining their opportunities for in-person interactions, newly arrived first-year students are taking advantage of their time on campus, acclimating to the double novelty of college and a college experience during the pandemic.

For David Pinto ’24, his first month of adjusting to life at Brown came with the added factor of adjusting to life in a new country. Pinto, who hails from London, described his arrival in Providence as “a bit of a culture shock.” 

Nonetheless, he has found his transition to be a smooth one. “I’ve adjusted pretty quickly,” he said. “I already see Brown as my home.”

Pinto, who is taking one class that meets in-person, is considering a concentration in History, Modern Culture and Media or Visual Art.

He found the University to be supportive of first years navigating this new landscape, but said his classmates and new friends were the most important factors in the success of his transition.

Pinto does, however, wish that the University would provide a timeline of campus reopening, vaccine distribution and other elements that would reveal a more certain view of the future in order to better support first years.

“For all my optimism, I have very little to no view of how this year is going to pan out,” he said. “The timeline will probably change, but it would be nice to have some idea of the trajectory and what we expect will be the case, because otherwise people don’t really have anything to look forward to.”

Even before arriving at the University, Pinto was eager to begin his college experience in spite of limitations associated with COVID-19. “I was actually just counting down the days until I could go to college and get started,” he said. Since his arrival, he feels more at home with each passing day, mentioning the increased normalcy of waking up in his room in New Dorm. Pinto’s ability to navigate campus without the aid of Google Maps served as another indicator of his successful adjustment.

For Noah Stanton ’24, coming to Providence was a different type of culture shock. The first year comes from the town of Paint Lick, Kentucky, a town so small it only has one real store, Stanton said. Stanton worked at this store — a Dollar General — for seven months over quarantine. 

“My backyard is a farm,” he said. “Providence is the biggest city I’ve ever been to. (My family) stayed in a hotel right in the city the day before (move-in) and walked around, got food. It was awesome.”

Among the surprises of relocating to an urban setting was the cleanliness of Providence. “It’s not as polluted as I thought it would be,” Stanton said.

He identified the Orientation Week activities as helpful in allowing him to meet fellow students, since many of the events involved a consistent group of people with whom he could interact every day. 

Beyond that, Stanton, along with Pinto, said that the living arrangements have organically given rise to a pod of peers. Stanton has befriended a number of people on his floor, and he said he is grateful for other sources of University-provided support, including his Meiklejohn advisor, academic advisor, Residential Peer Leaders, Bruno Leaders and a member of the facilities staff who works in his dorm, Champlin.

Stanton expressed a desire to engage with classmates beyond his COVID-safe pod: “I want to meet more people outside of my pod, but at the same time, I know that that’s not realistic because of COVID, and I want to adhere to the policies.” He also noted that some members of his pod are immunocompromised, and he does not want to take any chances when it comes to putting them at risk of contracting COVID-19. “It just kind of sucks not being able to branch out as far as I would like to, but I also understand that I can’t,” he said.

Stanton chose not to opt into in-person attendance for one of his courses, citing concerns about COVID-19 as well as the lecture’s early start time. 

Angela Snider ’24, who came to Providence from Palm Coast, Florida, has had a positive experience at the University thus far. “I’m having a great time,” she said. “Everyone has been really kind.”

Snider said that she has been able to connect with a few communities on campus, including the QuestBridge community, with which she was engaged even before arriving on campus. She also joined the student group Black at Brown, through which she was able to participate in the group’s own Black Convocation to welcome newly arrived students. 

Unlike Pinto and Stanton, Snider does not belong to a pod, because most of her friends live in Keeney Quad on the opposite side of campus from where she lives on Pembroke. Snider has been able to meet classmates who live in her dorm, as well as meet people in more organic ways like on walks to the mailroom and around campus. She said that she finds it more difficult to meet people over Zoom, due to an inevitable level of virtual “disconnect.” 

At times, Snider has found that the University’s communications and guidelines for the new first years are somewhat lacking in clarity. “Honestly, it was a little confusing at first,” she said. “We didn’t know what we could do at some moments.”

She added that she had tempered her expectations prior to arriving on campus so as not to be disappointed. But Snider said that she has been pleasantly surprised by her time in Rhode Island so far.

While Snider has had a positive experience navigating the transition to life at the University, which she had not visited prior to arriving at the start of the semester, she commented on some of the difficulties her peers might be encountering. “I’m extremely extroverted, but I know that for some of my more reserved classmates, they might have a hard time finding a community and feeling that they belong,” she said. “I know everyone is trying their best, but it still can be difficult at times.”

First years were excited to still be able to participate in the time-honored Brown tradition of walking through the Van Wickle Gates, doing so in their smaller housing units in order to disperse students and remain in compliance with social distancing guidelines. 

Snider was glad for the opportunity to take part in this rite of passage, although she said she was sad that her mother could not be present to witness the milestone and that she could not walk with her friends who are in other units. 

“Since I’m the only one in my family to go to college, I’m just grateful to actually be here,” Snider said. “Of course, there are a few disappointments with COVID, but in general, I’m just really grateful.”



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