Alexa White: When I first met Bo last year, I kept telling him all the things that were different during a COVID-19 free year at Vanderbilt. At first, I was doing it to get him excited for next year when things would hopefully go back to normal. But at some point along the line, it got exhausting. Dining was better, classes were better, clubs were better, sports were better, everything that popped into my head seemed negative.
When we compared our experiences at Vanderbilt this past year, it was clear that my first year was better than the Class of 2024’s pandemic year. However, we soon realized that even this school year, the Class of 2024 has been tossed to the bottom of the barrel by the administration in a lot of different ways.
Orientation and the Commons Experience
Alexa: Our class had typical freshman orientation. We even got a free trial of Zoom life at college with plenty of grace and forgiveness. When we got sent home in the middle of our semester, we got to experience college through a computer exactly the way we would for the whole year to come. Moving online was a great crash course for the upcoming school year and gave us plenty of time to get used to digital deadlines, testing formats, online proctors and more. Unlike the Class of 2024, we had time to make mistakes, figure out how to succeed in online classes and understand what was expected of us.
Bowman “Bo” Talbot: Orientation? Never heard of it. The Class of 2024 was welcomed to Vanderbilt with three hours of mandatory Zooms that we suffered through alone in our dorm rooms. For those of us lucky enough to have in-person classes, it was impossible to navigate campus without help. Campus tours had limited availability and weren’t widely publicized. Traditions like the Founder’s Walk weren’t even attempted as in-person events during the fall of 2020. Instead, first-years began classes with few opportunities to meet friends or join student organizations in-person. As a member of the Class of 2024, it seems like there could have been more of an effort made last year to welcome us to the university.
I have to give credit where credit is due. This year, Vanderbilt devised a “reorientation” for the Class of 2024 that included special remarks from Chancellor Diermier and Provost Raver, free food and dessert from food trucks and screen-printed t-shirts. We also finally got to experience the Vanderbilt tradition of standing under the hot sun for what felt like hours to take our signature Class of 2024 picture. I felt that the event achieved its goal of making returning sophomores feel more welcomed to campus. However, watching the Class of 2025 experience a real Founder’s Walk and a week of specially designed orientation experiences felt bittersweet.
But hey … at least I got a free t-shirt and a popsicle for my trouble.
Alexa: Although both of us had to contend with mostly online classes throughout last year, Bo and I had vastly different experiences. While most sophomores have already built a year of relationships with other classmates, the first-year students did not have that familiarity. When the entire year was pushed to a mostly digital format, I still felt like there was a sense of community because I knew people outside of the tiny Zoom rectangles. Most first-year students did not have the same experience as I did.
Bo: I arrived on campus last year not knowing any first-year students. Typical social events for meeting new people were held virtually or canceled altogether. First-years couldn’t just walk into Rand or Commons, grab lunch and find a new person to sit within the dining halls. The campus was socially dead, with little effort made to assist the Class of 2024 in meeting each other.
Safe and Guaranteed Housing
Alexa: When COVID-19 sent us all home from college in 2020, my dorm was all packed up at no additional cost to me and stored on campus until I returned in the fall. While not ideal, it saved my family a lot of money to fly back down and pack everything up to store it. Other students were affected differently by this for sure, but for me it took a lot of pressure off my family during a confusing time. I had had a great dorm experience my first year and had been able to choose my own roommate as well. I had an amazing experience living on Commons with my first-year community.
Unlike most of the first-years, I was very lucky with housing during the pandemic. I transitioned from my Commons dorm right into a luxurious double in Zeppos. The high ceilings, the brand new smell and the dining hall just downstairs made my day when I found out I had gotten in. We got our first choice suite which is complete with four private rooms, a private bathroom and a living room and a convenience kitchen—the dream. While the housing process isn’t fun for anyone, we definitely lucked out. I did not have to experience the insecurity and frustration that many sophomores experienced going through the housing process.
Bo: Don’t even get me started on housing last year. The move-in experience for my class was less than ideal, to say the least. Only one person was allowed to help each student move in and each student was held to a time limit. Both of my parents drove me and my stuff from Southeast Louisiana but only my mom was allowed on the fifth floor of Gillette Hall, as my dad stood awkwardly outside and attempted to talk with other parents from the driver’s seats of their cars. An hour or so later, I gave my parents a hug and watched them drive off. That was that … no fanfare or new parents orientation, no events or even a family weekend later in the semester. I stood alone in my dorm room, as the Class of 2024 was not allowed roommates, and began my year of Zoom classes.
Then finals came around and the Class of 2024’s whole world got turned upside down. To give every freshman “the Commons experience,” the infamous “flip” was devised. Virtually every first-year was required to pack their things and relocate across campus, moving away from what little of campus we had been able to know. To make matters worse, members of the Class of 2024 who were lucky enough to get into Residential Colleges for 2021-22 are no longer guaranteed a spot for future years, a change no other class at Vanderbilt has ever experienced. Not only did our class miss out on the “Commons Experience” but we were forced to relocate again to an unfamiliar setting during an already trying school year.
But hey, at least the Zeppos tower is finished and chock-full of offices and faculty apartments.
Alexa: Our two classes were definitely not given the same treatment this year. It almost seems like around every turn, the Class of 2024 got short-changed. I certainly can see all the things that I was fortunate to enjoy that they were not able to, and it even continues to this year as well. Everyone in any sort of college environment these past few months suffered along with us.
Bo: Reflecting on my first-year experience, I can say without a doubt that it was one of the best times in my life. I met many new people and had some amazing experiences. I recognize that no one had the answers for last year, not even the university. However, this doesn’t take away the disappointment I feel about the effort given to the Class of 2024 and our experience here on campus.
Here’s to hoping that the Class of 2023 and 2024 have a better year this time around—and hopefully, a more “precedented” college experience.