Walking around campus last school year, walls were empty, hallways echoed and Cal Poly was swept into a slumber — “dead” even, kinesiology junior Cossette Gibler said. Now as the first signs of life return to the campus — with athletes, summer school students and others roaming around — students feel invigorated, cautious and anxious as fall approaches.
Now returning for her junior year, Gibler, a Quarter Plus learning assistant, said she feels differently than she had expected.
“It almost feels like my second year didn’t exist,” she said.
Surprisingly to Gibler, even with the clear presence of masks wearing and the relics of pandemic life, Gibler said she does not feel the presence of COVID-19 much.
“It feels like that whole like COVID [-19] quarantine time didn’t happen, even though I know it did [because of a newfound normalcy and routine on campus],” she said.
Gibler said she is interested to see how the dynamics of mask-wearing play out: potentially unmasking with peers or awkwardly asking others if they are vaccinated.
Even with these unknowns, Gibler said she looks forward to the simple pleasures campus has to offer: catching up with friends between classes at the dining hall, basking in the sun on Dexter Lawn and cramming for a final at the library.
Quarter Plus learning assistant and biochemistry junior Brooke Bollengier described an air of excitement on campus that’s been missing for over a year.
“People are out and about, it definitely doesn’t feel like a ghost town, especially with the [Quarter Plus students] here,” Bollengier said.
Bollengier had in-person labs last year where there would only be one class on a single floor — sometimes even an entire building.
“Now, everyone is above us,” Bollengier said. “You can hear the other professors talking, so it definitely feels like you’re not the only one in class, which is how it felt last year.”
Quarter Plus learning assistant and physics sophomore Michael Dalsin described his first year as “very alien and bizarre” — living in a freshman dorm on campus — but said he now feels he more embodies “the college experience.”
“Now [Cal Poly] is a place I know, but see in a different way, actually being used and utilized for what it’s meant to be,” Dalsin said.
Biking to campus each morning to avoid a hefty parking cost, opening the doors to Music Hall, greeting students and professors before beginning hours of class, and leading bonding activities for the Quarter Plus program are all aspects of Dalsin’s daily life — something so foreign to him just a year ago.
Although Dalsin befriended his freshman year roommates, some greater connection was missing — a connection to Cal Poly.
“[Even after becoming friends with my roommates], I still felt like I was in a bubble — even though I was on campus,” Dalsin said. “So I’m just excited to feel like I’m part of something.”
This new in-person reality poses an unusual situation for Dalsin and others without experience of in-person college instruction.
“I know the place and I know SLO, and I obviously have to be like a leader for the students with that, but also I don’t know what I’m doing with college classes because I’ve never been in one,” Dalsin said.
At first, Quarter Plus learning assistant and child development junior Shay Mellor was excited to return to campus at the beginning of August. Meeting her sorority sisters and interacting with children in the Preschool Learning Lab still excites her, yet the school’s situation is more bleak and concerning than she had hoped.
For one, Mellor sees the campus as a “ghost town.”
“You can tell there was a lot of positive, active energy here at one point, but now it’s mostly quiet and there are very few things happening here outside of Quarter Plus and sports programs,” Mellor said. “It’s nothing like my first year here.”
Yet, a recurring theme among students on campus surpasses this: a disregard for safety, she said.
“I figured the school would take the necessary precautions to keep everyone here as safe as possible,” Mellor said. “I’m slowly realizing that isn’t the case.”
While there are protocols set in place for fall and when the majority of students return to campus, many of these protocols are not being implemented during the summer.
According to Cal Poly’s COVID-19 testing homepage, on August 30 a testing site for unvaccinated Resident Advisors and Quarter Plus students opened — requiring testing twice a week. However, Cal Poly’s Ongoing Testing Program offering asymptomatic COVID-19 testing is closed for the summer. Only symptomatic vaccinated students can be tested on campus and vaccinated students who have been exposed to the virus are not required to test nor quarantine.
“I’m hoping the Cal Poly administration thinks through testing, contact tracing and other safety protocols before welcoming so many students and faculty back on campus since this has been a cause for anxiety in myself as well as other people participating in Quarter Plus,” she said.
Mellor said she believes if Cal Poly can successfully integrate safety protocols, returning in-person can be rewarding and exciting, but she’s forced to acknowledge the other option.
“If not, I can see things going poorly very quickly with huge upticks in the spread of the delta variant and possibly student, faculty and community deaths,” Mellor said. “Right now, it’s imperative that we take every precaution to make this upcoming school year safe for everyone.”
Chemistry and theatre senior Madison Noyes said Cal Poly was unprepared to handle the arrival of summer quarter on campus.
She said students diligently wear their masks, report recent exposures on their self-screener passes and take the necessary precautions. The disregard for safety is not among these students — but with the school.
She said not only is there a lack of concern about student safety, but few resources to keep students safe.
For the past week, this lack of preparation has been obvious to Noyes and other summer students, searching for answers amidst a time of confusion.
After attending a recent meeting with Cal Poly’s EOC team, a response group dedicated to emergency situations on campus, Bollengier seconded this frustration — sensing a disregard for safety from the school.
“It doesn’t seem like [the] administration was ready for the summer groups and are overlooking us and just looking to fall,” Bollengier said.
Bollengier said she wants to see testing more accessible for all students on campus because — as of now — Campus Health just directs everyone to the San Luis Obispo Veteran’s Hall, she said.
Although many are excited to be back on campus and in San Luis Obispo, students remain frustrated with a lack of overall guidance during the lingering pandemic, with uncertainty as to how the fall quarter will proceed.