It seems that students of the class of 2024 are desperately hoping to make the most of their freshman college experience, as many chose to live on campus in spite of virtual classes and COVID-19 restrictions.

A poll posted on the “SLO Class of 2024” Facebook page showed about 234 students planned to live on campus as of Aug. 28 — accounting for 71 percent of the responses.

For some, they said their classes helped determine whether they would live on campus. Freshmen received their block schedules Aug. 25 and had until Aug. 26 to defer their fall housing payments.

When architecture freshman Avery Vuong found out all her classes would be virtual, she made the last-minute decision to stay home. Whereas Shannon Robinson’s schedule as a mechanical engineering freshman pushed her in the opposite direction. 

“I have two in-person classes and I’m really, really bad at doing all virtual classes. I just can’t learn that way and neither can a lot of other students which kind of sucks,” Robinson said. “I feel like being on campus will just help get me into that mindset of,  ‘Okay, it’s time to work,’ rather than just being at home in my room.”

Even a completely virtual schedule is not keeping some freshmen home. Animal science freshman Corrinne Jones said despite her tendency to get homesick, she decided to learn virtually from the comfort of her residence hall.

“I really want to get away from home and experience that kind of thing on my own,” Jones said. “I love the area and I just feel like even though we’ll be in singles and socially distanced, I still want to experience the college life.” 

Though students will be kept at a distance following social distancing guidelines, Jones said she is finding ways to stay connected to her peers. From following almost every Cal Poly page on social media and joining several group chats to even creating her own group chat for freshmen from San Diego who are moving onto campus, Jones said she has been able to make new friends and stay connected with the Cal Poly community. Once students move in, Jones said she hopes for a more interactive experience. 

“I really hope that the RAs, clubs, faculty and staff in general make it as interactive as they can whether that be online or socially distanced outside, just trying to keep everyone that is living on campus still together and get that sense of college community even though we still have to be apart,” Jones said. 

On the frontlines of creating a positive experience while enforcing safety is sophomore Enrico Cruz, a Week of Welcome (WOW) leader, CORE leader and Residential Advisor (RA) for the Yosemite dorms.

While students cannot expect a typical college lifestyle, Cruz said many groups on campus host virtual socials. He said this helps keep spirits high. 

“I look forward to them at the end of the week to hop on Zoom, play or just play paranoia or mafia,” Cruz said. “It seems silly but those are really fun and it’s really nice to have that. You don’t need to kick back and go to a party or something like that honestly.”

Although Cal Poly is requiring all fall events and gatherings — whether on or off campus — to be virtual, students said they still expect to feel more immersed in the college community by living on campus. For those staying home, that sense of community may be put on hold until winter.

“Staying home and seeing people virtually would result in me getting to know them in a work capacity, and once I come on campus I’m excited to get to know more about them as people,” Vuong said. “Of course, that doesn’t mean that I won’t learn anything about them over Zoom, but so far, virtual learning hasn’t allowed me to connect too deeply with others.”

Looking back on his own Fall quarter experience as a freshman, Cruz said that finding your “group” is always a challenge in the beginning, with or without a pandemic. With the school converting resources such as the WOW club showcase to a virtual platform, Cruz said it may be easier for people to meet others with similar interests.

“I feel like I was really comfortable at Cal Poly by my winter quarter because first quarter you’re kind of dropped in, you have no idea what to do or what clubs to join,” Cruz said. “For now, it’s kind of a lot easier because everything’s online. You get to pick and choose versus having to run around campus trying to figure out what club and what team is meeting when.”

Some students said that they have felt connected to the Cal Poly community and made friends virtually.

For example, Jones said virtual SLO Days allowed her to connect with her group leader of the same major. Meanwhile, students can find a support system on or off campus, as RAs are present to help students. Services such as virtual counseling services are also available to people, even in the comfort of their own home, according to Cruz.

“We do have a lot of training about mental health [and diversity],” Cruz said. “The best thing we can do is help them out with situations we’ve been in ourselves and recommend them the proper resources to help themselves out because that’s what we’re supposed to do to advise them and help them through this entire process, COVID or not.”

For on-campus life during Fall quarter, Cruz said it will be “instant gratification versus the long term goal.” He said he hopes freshmen choose to socialize virtually while prioritizing safety. 

Despite campus safety measures, Cal Poly may be added to a growing list of college campuses that have been linked to an increase in COVID-19 cases after opening for the fall. In response, Vuong and Robinson have created a petition urging Cal Poly to enact stricter punishments for those who break safety measures. The petition garnered 126 signatures, but it has yet to be sent to the university for a response. 

“We made it hoping that students would see it and maybe if they were on the fence about whether this is a big issue or just people waving their hands frantically, we were hoping that this petition would help them to see that this is a serious matter and the health of people is at risk,” Vuong said. “We’re hoping [students] see that the benefit of complying by these rules — even if it doesn’t result in the most fun quarter ever — will result in everyone being able to enjoy going back to a normal college campus in the future.”

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