OPINION | Wrapping up unforgettable semester

Gabe Darley, Staff Writer

The Fall 2020 semester is undoubtedly one to remember if not also full of predictions of what is to come this spring.

Without a doubt, the fall 2020 semester will not soon be forgotten by Tulane University students. To observe the timely intersection of disease and protest, hybrid learning and temporary classrooms, and chalk it all up to “it’s been a weird semester” seems reductive. And yet, it begs to be said.

It has been a weird semester.

In August, many Tulane students approached campus apprehensively. Upon arrival, it was abundantly clear that the landscape had shifted. 

Masks are a requirement on every corner of campus, indoors or out. Undergraduate students are now subjected to COVID-19 testing three times a week. Plexiglass is showcased at the Reily Student Recreation Center and PJ’s Coffee, and self-serve is no longer an option at the Commons. 

So, what do all these minor life changes sum to? What can be learned from the consequence of these adjustments?

 For many, this semester has foremost revealed the limits of online learning. Asynchronous and hybrid models have yet to be called upon to replace completely in-person methods of teaching. These new concepts solved a major threat to Tulane undergraduates’ learning timelines posed by COVID-19.

 However, they certainly still have their shortcomings and have caused some detriment to the teacher-student relationship and learning flow. Where students once leaned on professors as the backbone of their educational process, unreliable Zoom connections and poor technology training forced students to look elsewhere for assistance.

 The upside of this is a newly invigorated academic support network. It is indisputable that fewer in-person meetings of class and spread-out desks have made physical peer interactions a little less frequent and a little more awkward. But, virtual interaction seems to be at an all-time high, and when it comes to academic collaboration, students have been much more generous with their energy and time — perhaps due to having so much more of it. 

 The advent of a universal struggle to understand lectures in an impossibly large temporary classroom has made almost every student a peer tutor and a peer learner. Shared study guides and group messages seem to be less skewed toward the one furious notetaker of the class and much closer to an amalgamation of the bits and pieces of lecture each student was able to catch and understand. 

 In addition to altering the academic environment, this semester has also witnessed significant changes to Tulane’s social culture. In particular, COVID-19 has put to the test the student body’s ability in controlling its typical urge to treat the city like a block party bouncy castle. 

Undoubtedly, there have been a few hiccups. 

The first week of school, reports of a certain Sharp Quadrangle volleyball court gathering sparked discussion regarding what “social distance” and “limiting group size” really entails. 

And as the year has progressed, some might say students’ notions of both have taken a trip downhill, as larger and less protected clusters of students have been forcibly dispersed at the Fly, downtown, and up and down Broadway Street. 

 This pattern culminated in a tumultuous Halloween evening, where it seems a critical mass of students decided that they were through with the school’s guidelines and flocked to the French Quarter. 

Needless to say, the first week of November revealed a sizable increase in the number of COVID-19 cases on campus, reiterating an unsurprising but disappointing point that Tulane students may struggle in the interest of the greater good.

 But, this should not be labeled the definitive Tulane social experience for the fall. For those who have followed the rules, an adjusted pandemic lifestyle has yielded some beautiful moments. Socializing is possible, masked and all, and the current state of affairs still allows us many wonderful things: porchside picnics, Audubon Park study sessions and meaningful protests. 

 Life has not gone on pause. Tulane students have merely adapted to a new world.

 Here are some of those adaptations, in the the form of “lessons learned” from the student body this semester:

  •     Junior Deeya Patel is already conceptualizing next semester’s class roster in the age of the coronavirus. “Plan your schedule around your COVID tests.”
  •     Sophomore Lila Goodwillie has found solace in mandated mask-wearing for reasons beyond their protective ability. “After this pandemic is over, I will continue to wear a mask in public because I’m no longer comfortable with people seeing the lower half of my face.”
  •     Junior Mariza Francis has enjoyed living and working from home this semester, discovering that perhaps her parents are the best roommates she could ask for. “Their compliments slap in a different way. They gain absolutely nothing from telling me that I’m beautiful or that I’m doing good things.”
  •     Senior Benton Meldrum reflects on his last semester at Tulane with satisfaction. He has taken the time to “find hobbies and things within myself that keep me happy … I am trying to draw more, bake more … and spending more time with my pod has made me very grateful for the people in my life.”

Yes, it has been a weird semester. But then again, who ever wanted a semester exactly like the last?