Transferring colleges is a daunting task in and of itself. Add a global pandemic to the mix and it only becomes more stressful. In an effort to give students a feel for the “real Kenyon,” the College administration decided it would be best to invite transfer students to live on campus for the 2020 fall semester. Despite this attempt at normalcy, Kenyon left transfer students completely unprepared and unsupported.
Orientation for first-year and transfer students looked a little different last semester. Instead of touring campus, going to the activities fair and meeting our neighbors awkwardly in the hallway, we attended Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, each promising that Kenyon would be a lively campus despite the restrictions. However, without our orientation leaders (OLs) on campus, it was difficult to create a sense of togetherness among this year’s transfer class. While it was nice having upperclassmen as our OLs to show us the ropes, I would’ve preferred having sophomores that were on campus who could provide in-person support or organize on-campus events for new students.
I understand that precautions must be taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but there were a myriad of opportunities for safe, outdoor activities that Kenyon did not take advantage of during orientation. It could have facilitated hikes around the Brown Family Environmental Center, a visit to the farm, a socially distanced, outside activities fair or just walks around campus. Transfer students attempted to spark socialization through impromptu lawn dinners, but outside of that, there were little to no organized activities to help us acclimate to Kenyon.
In addition to missing the traditional orientation, we lacked communal support in the fall. Typically, transfer students live in the same hall. However, last semester I lived in McBride, an all-first year dorm, while other transfer students were scattered across campus. Don’t get me wrong: I made my fair share of first-year friends last semester. But being isolated from other sophomores was not conducive for making connections. This was evident when I returned to campus for the spring. Many sophomores were excited to have the upperclassmen back, but it felt like my first semester at Kenyon all over again. With the majority of first years online, I lost most of the connections I had made.
The most frequently asked question I get is, “Why did you transfer?” Conveniently, it’s also the hardest question to answer. Everyone has their own reasons for transferring, but one commonality is that we all lacked community at our old schools. Slowly but surely, I am finding my own community at Kenyon, despite living in a pandemic.
While I’m not implying that our social lives should take precedence over COVID-19 precautions, the declining mental health of the students speaks volumes. I understand that restrictions had to be in place for the safety of the students and staff, but there were countless opportunities to produce a more welcoming environment safely. We don’t know how long the pandemic will last, so if orientation continues to be virtual next year, the administration will need to reconsider the needs of all students.