Shayna Dollinger at Wesleyan University where she is a junior. (Photo/Courtesy  Dollinger)
Shayna Dollinger at Wesleyan University where she is a junior. (Photo/Courtesy Dollinger)

My pandemic year in college has brought pride and purpose

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When I imagined my college experience, it was not this. I imagined going to my first party, bodies squished into tiny living rooms, passing drinks and drunken confessions. I imagined weekend getaways to New York City with friends and first loves. I imagined engaging classes filled with bright and eager minds and lecture halls packed with sleep-deprived college students stuffing their faces with breakfast from the campus coffee shop.

But weirdly enough, I don’t miss what could have been. I am proud and grateful every day for the lengths my university has gone to keep its students safe and engaged during these turbulent times.

My arrival to campus in the last days of August was not what I expected. One of the ways Wesleyan kept the numbers down was by instituting a mandatory quarantine period at the beginning of the semester. Students arriving from states with large Covid outbreaks followed Connecticut guidelines of quarantining for two weeks upon arrival, whereas students coming from states where the virus was temporarily contained had to get negative results on two consecutive Covid tests to be able to come out of strict quarantine on Sept. 7. While these two weeks were extraordinarily challenging for someone like me who hadn’t been able to see her friends since campus shut down last March, it allowed for Wesleyan to start the semester with a low incidence rate.

Twice a week, my days begin with the walk up to the testing tent. I am greeted by a nurse who has already had their morning coffee. They question me about symptoms, take my temperature, and send me to the next table where I sanitize, blow my nose, and sanitize again. After receiving my test tube, I send a cotton swab around the rim of each nostril five times before I place it in my test tube, put my mask back on, and sanitize again. As I leave the tent, a sign reads “Today is Monday, October 26th. Schedule your next test for Thursday, October 29th.”

Socially distanced tashlich on Rosh Hashanah at Wesleyan University. (Photo/Courtesy Shayna Dollinger) 
Socially distanced tashlich on Rosh Hashanah at Wesleyan University. (Photo/Courtesy Shayna Dollinger)

Just 24 hours later I receive an email in my inbox alerting me that my results are ready to be viewed. I know that an email alert, rather than a phone call, means my test is negative, and I am filled with relief. The speed and frequency of testing among students as well as employees allow cases to be caught before they spread.

I lay in the dead grass, a 6-by-6-foot square all to myself. I cheer for my best friend, who is on the stage constructed at the bottom of Foss hill, dancing with her Bollywood dance group. Masks cover their ordinarily smiling faces as their bodies move in sync. Looking around at friends and classmates, each in their own 6-by-6 world, I feel an overwhelming sense of normalcy.

One of the ways in which Wesleyan has prevented outbreaks on campus is by holding safe, socially distanced events that students want to attend. By giving us places to be and things to do on the weekends, we are discouraged from breaking rules and causing outbreaks at “super-spreader events.”

To date, we have had a positivity rate of 0.07 percent out of more than 50,000 tests administered over the course of three months. There is a culture of mutual respect for the health of our peers. We wear masks at all times, except when in our own residences, and we try to hold as many events outdoors as possible. We genuinely want to be here and stay here, and the only way that is possible is if we all agree to keep our campus safe and healthy. We are young people who care not only about our own health, but the health of our peers, the older members of our community, and the health of our country and world.

Perhaps if this country was able to implement the Wesleyan strategy on a larger scale, as well as create a culture of joint responsibility, this pandemic would ease its course and we might be able to prevent the next. Until then, I will rock my Wesleyan University mask and find joy in my very own college experience.

Shayna Dollinger
Shayna Dollinger

Shayna Dollinger grew up in San Rafael and attended Brandeis Marin and Jewish Community High School. She is a junior at Wesleyan University studying religion, Jewish and Israel studies and global engagement. She also teaches Hebrew and serves on the board of the Wesleyan Jewish Community.