First-year Isra Shuster pictured with masks during her first semester at Vanderbilt. (Isra Shuster)
First-year Isra Shuster pictured with masks during her first semester at Vanderbilt. (Isra Shuster)

Pandemic Profiles: First-year Isra Shuster

First-year Isra Shuster shares her experience on campus during a fall semester with unprecedented social limitations

January 5, 2021

In Pandemic Profiles, the Hustler Life Staff is highlighting the student experiences of Commodores over the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic. From first-years to seniors, students had the opportunity to learn more about both themselves and each other as they bore unique burdens together (yet six feet apart).

 

Making the transition from the hallowed halls of high school to a roaring college campus isn’t easy for anyone, but Vanderbilt first-year Isra Shuster belonged to a college class that faced a particularly damning challenge: a global pandemic. We spoke via Zoom to talk about her fall semester experience. 

 

Eva Pace: What is your name/year/major?

Isra Shuster: My name is Isra Shuster. I am a freshman majoring in biochemistry.

 

Where did you spend your first semester at Vanderbilt?

I lived in Branscomb, my first semester in Vaughn House.

 

To what extent did you feel supported by Vandy student resources before your arrival/upon move-in?

I felt pretty supported by Vandy student resources before move-in. I received plenty of information and instruction about move-in day.

 

In your opinion, what was most affected by the pandemic and why: your social life, your academics, or something totally different?

In my opinion, my social life has been more impacted by the pandemic.

My two science classes were either hybrid or completely remote learning. I don’t think this made the classes more challenging because I usually just learn and study by reading the textbook. My other classes were in person, so the pandemic didn’t really change much. Not having an in-person lab every week was also kind of nice because it gave me way more study time on some days. 

However, socially, there wasn’t anything to do on campus except remotely, which basically means you won’t make any friends that way.

 

Describe your social expectations coming into Vandy and how they were different/the same as what you expected. 

I didn’t really have social expectations for Vandy except for the typical college stuff. I obviously wanted to make friends and hang out with them. I was able to do that and have a good time, but it felt like the campus was very unfriendly to most social interaction. 

In the beginning of the semester, most social stuff was obviously outside, yet people would still get in trouble, either for standing too close or being with too many people. No one was going to tell a random kid, “Hey you need to leave right now because there are already ten people outside” if everyone’s wearing a mask. If a group of five people wanted to hang out on the Commons lawn, and other friend groups had the same idea, we would all get in trouble for being over the 10 person limit, yet there was no communication between the different groups of people.

I know COVID safety is super important, but it just felt like no matter what we were doing we were going to get in trouble. Most people stopped hanging out outside as a result.

 

Describe your academic experience so far as a first-year. Is it what you expected given the pandemic?

My academic experience was pretty good. I don’t love learning from lectures, so I read the textbooks; so, remote learning didn’t affect me too much. I had a positive experience with virtual labs, something I was not expecting. I think most of my professors handled remote learning very well and seemed willing to work with students.

 

If you could go back in time, would you have still chosen to come to campus in the fall or would you have stayed home?

I would choose to go to campus again.

 

What could Vandy be doing better for first-years during this crisis?

Overall, I think Vandy did a very good job of handling the pandemic. The social situation wasn’t great in the beginning, because it seemed like people were getting in trouble for almost everything. I understand that COVID guidelines must be enforced, but it would have been nice to feel comfortable doing safe outside activities with a few friends without someone posting a picture of you on “Vandy Corona Police” or taking a picture of your Commodore Card. So it would be nice if some alternatives had been suggested that didn’t include “hanging out” over Zoom.

 

Are you concerned about relocating next semester, why?

I am concerned. It was a hassle to pack up an entire room on my own while I still had classes every day, essays due and tests that week. Unpacking shouldn’t be as bad, but it kind of sucks that we won’t get any assistance. It’ll be nice to be on Commons, though. It does suck that the friends I made in my hall will be in a completely different dorm.

 

Is there anything else you would like to say on behalf of first-years?

Overall, I’d say that Vandy did a very good job. Of course, most freshmen have complaints about moving dorms and the social scene, but that’s to be expected when you have to go to college during a pandemic.

 

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