Unlike in previous years, summer on College Hill is bustling with students taking full-time courses, which began May 13. All first-years and some sophomores are spending this summer fully enrolled in classes as part of the University’s de-densified tri-semester system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While COVID-19 cases have decreased dramatically compared to peak numbers seen prior to the summer semester, restrictions meant to curb infection rates continue to shape the experiences of students on campus. The campus activity status currently remains at Level 2, with most public health restrictions from the spring semester still in place.
Students arriving on campus this summer were also still required to undergo a seven-day Quiet Period, which the University ended early Saturday in light of low positivity rates.
Differing views on continued COVID-19 precautions
Last Thursday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its mask-wearing rules for people who are fully vaccinated. Rhode Island, also following the CDCs guidelines, is no longer requiring those that are fully vaccinated to wear masks outdoors and in some in-door situations.
But despite national and state guidelines, students living on campus are still required to wear masks where social distancing is not possible. Students are also required to participate in Brown’s regular COVID-19 testing program.
“I think the restrictions are pretty reasonable,” said Sheridan Feucht ’23, who took a gap semester in the spring and is enrolled in full-time classes this summer.
For Feucht, regularly required COVID-19 testing gives her peace of mind. “Everyone's getting their negative test results all the time,” mitigating concerns of COVID-19 spread, she said.
On the other hand, Sarah Reichheld ’23, who is also enrolled in the summer semester, said that some of the current campus restrictions feel like “overkill.”
Reichheld pointed out that University policies on COVID-19 testing do not align with CDC guidance. The CDC does not suggest asymptomatic testing for fully vaccinated individuals; meanwhile, the University continues to test all on-campus community members.
“Certain logistical things don’t totally make sense to me,” Reichheld said. She thinks that it would be better if people could “follow the science and keep listening to the CDC.”
The University is still following the same guidelines as the CDC and other public health organizations, even if at a slower pace, according to Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy. The University has not altered its policies because they cannot guarantee which students on-campus are vaccinated or not.
Last Thursday, the University moved the date that all students and employees must be fully vaccinated. Carey added that only when the University achieves that goal and reaches “universal vaccination” will it be able to lift some of the majors restrictions like mask wearing and social distancing.
For many first-years, this summer is the first time they are living on campus.
Pittayuth Yoosiri ’24 spent the previous semester studying remotely from his home in Bangkok. According to Yoosiri, one of the benefits of being on campus is that his classes align with his sleep schedule. Many international students studying from home were forced to adapt to Eastern Standard Time, staying up through the night to join synchronous Zoom classes and club meetings.
During Quiet Period, Yoosiri said, people on his floor would “come and knock on the door and introduce themselves,” making the period of isolation “refreshing” and “less lonely.”
Still, Yoosiri similarly expressed that precautions are “too restrictive now, to the point where even though I’m on campus, it still feels kind of lonely.”
But Yoosiri acknowledged the difficulty of aligning campus policies with rapidly changing public health guidance, adding that students should be patient with administrators for now, trusting that “they're probably working on new policies for the year.”
Reichheld also recognized the complex considerations in modifying campus policies and noted that changes should be implemented cautiously. “It would be hard to go back and make things more strict once they loosen up, so I understand that part,” she said.
A semester with unusual courses and opportunities
Fewer students are enrolled in the summer term than in the fall and spring, translating to fewer courses currently being offered. There are 338 courses offered this summer semester, according to Courses@Brown, compared to 1,439 courses during the spring and 1,206 in the fall.
Feucht said the summer course options were “slim.” She had originally planned to double concentrate in computer science and linguistics, but the limited linguistics course offerings made it more difficult for her to fit all of the requirements into her schedule for her junior and senior years.
For Yoosiri, the relatively limited summer course offerings were not a problem.
“I don't really feel (the limitations) simply because most of my classes are still kind of intro classes,” Yoosiri said.
Over the summer, students would traditionally secure jobs or internships, or conduct research.
But Yoosiri doesn’t mind the tradeoff. “Ultimately it is kind of worth it, because, in exchange for internships … we get an on-campus experience, and I ultimately think that that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make.”
Feucht was similarly unconcerned about summer internships given that she was able to spend her gap semester in the spring working virtually at an artificial intelligence laboratory.
Even as many first-year students arrive on campus for the first time, some are still spending the summer semester remotely.
Angela Wei ’24, is studying remotely from Chengdu for a second semester after having also spent the spring semester at home. Because the United States consulate in China was closed until recently, Wei would have had to fly to another country, such as Singapore or Thailand, to make a visa appointment — and quarantine for 14 days in a new country.
She is worried that, with the majority of first-years on campus during the summer semester, she may feel less included in hybrid classes as one of the few remote students.
Students remain positive
Overall, students expressed optimism about the summer semester, despite its unusual timing.
Yoosiri said he is eager to attend his three in-person classes. He is particularly excited for ENVS 1555: “Urban Agriculture: The Importance of Localized Food Systems” due to the Community-Based Learning and Research component that will allow him to engage with the surrounding Providence area.
Feucht expressed a similar enthusiasm. “I’m glad I decided to come this summer,” she said, adding that she feels “safe” and “comfortable” on campus with more people getting vaccinated.
Even though Wei will not join her peers on campus, she said that studying remotely gives her time to really “be there with the material.” She also has the time to delve deeper into her courses and think about career paths that she otherwise never would have considered.
Compared to last semester, Reichheld noted the positive impact of the slow loosening of restrictions on campus this summer.
“The summer honestly seems just so much more open and social,” she said, “and everyone is so much more relaxed.”
With additional reporting by Gabriella Vulakh