We spent the last year and a half craving the small pleasures, the ones we took for granted before the pandemic hit. Hugging friends and seeing their unmasked smiles. Chatting with classmates before and after lecture. In-person club meetings, before we regularly used “in-person” as an adjective. Sipping coffee while studying around others in The Underground. This semester, we got them back. Our gratitude for all these little moments, albeit in uncertain conditions, cannot be overstated.
Any semblance of normalcy has been hard-won. The staff in our dining halls, dorms and testing sites have worked tirelessly to keep our campus running. The administration’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as vaccination requirements and investments in widespread testing, have allowed us to maintain in-person experiences. Students, too, have had to make sacrifices, adjusting to college life amid restrictive COVID-19 policies. For all the struggles we’ve had, our community has kept us safe.
The normalcy we have experienced is also abnormal. The University’s COVID-19 policies and testing programs have created a kind of “Brown bubble,” allowing us to live amid low positivity rates even as cases skyrocket elsewhere. The pandemic is by no means over; there are many places across the United States and abroad where COVID-19 remains widespread, ravaging hospitals due to insufficient resources or low vaccination rates. All communities deserve the safety that Brown has provided us this past semester. Having the resources and leadership necessary to safely weather the pandemic has been an immense privilege — not a given.
As we look back on this semester, it is also worth reflecting on the long journey we took to get here. An entire class of students had to make their first friends at Brown over Zoom. Two classes graduated without a proper goodbye. Students spent entire semesters eating meals sheltered in their dorm rooms and trying to learn through a screen. Some students never even made it to College Hill, enrolling remotely or taking leave. Faculty overhauled what they know about teaching to educate us online. Administrators have worked through the endless challenges of navigating a pandemic: The COVID-19 outbreaks that never occurred due to effective policies are invisible yet meaningful successes for which our University leaders deserve more credit.
The clarion call of this board — that Brown must always do better — remains the same. We will continue to use the board’s voice to advocate for change, but we also believe in the importance of celebration and reflection. At the start of this semester, we reflected on what our community lost during the pandemic. This sense of loss still lingers, but it has also inspired a renewed vitality on College Hill.
We do not know what lies ahead, even for the next semester. Public health conditions are still in flux: Booster shots are more accessible than ever in the United States, but the Omicron variant looms large. What we do know is that we are grateful for this semester. It’s good to be back.