Move-in day wasn’t quite like what I expected it to be when I was admitted to Yale last year. I looked forward to stepping onto a bustling campus with Handsome Dan strutting around, my residential college dean greeting me with a smile on his face and administrators preparing to launch me into a flurry of orientation events. Instead, I was met with somber silence as I approached the COVID-19 testing center, grabbed pre-packaged meals to last through the 36-hour quarantine period and arrived at my dorm room to start unpacking my belongings alone.
While Yale has had a strong response to the pandemic for the most part, the University has to radically reimagine how to welcome first-year students. And yet, there are so many ways that Yale has failed to do so, leaving first years to fend for themselves in ways that Yale students have never had to do before.
Take course scheduling, for example. Traditionally, Yale first years are given advisers well before they have to create preliminary schedules. This year, my peers and I had to wade our way through a sea of intimidating courses, make sense of confusing registration requirements and navigate an ancient course selection website — OCS, I’m looking at you — to set our fall schedule. The only help we received came from a few friendly FroCos and a couple of kind student organizations, who despite all the great work they did, did not have the capacity to serve hundreds of students. Compound that with a lack of reliable internet access for many, and suddenly students are academically disenfranchised, unable to plan for the fall semester.
Although Yale’s plan to move students to campus amid a pandemic was comprehensive, especially considering the struggles of peer institutions like Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, communications between Yale and first years have left much to be desired. Scattered updates sent at random times, some with vital information and others with fluff, came regularly. Critical updates, like pre-arrival testing requirements, were often either buried in extensive emails or interspersed between communication from several departments, making it easy to overlook important action items with pressing deadlines.
Our University has long been committed to a “free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community.” But the Yale administration’s current communication with first years needs to be improved.
The pandemic has highlighted just how much public health is a community issue, and our increased interdependence requires a dedication to transparency. We need to know exactly what is going on, from total case count and positivity rate to the case threshold at which students are sent home for the semester. This way, students with varying needs can respond accordingly.
Yale must also extend resources to first years to address issues of equity and accessibility exacerbated by COVID-19. Technology and health concerns cannot be barriers to becoming a member of the school community, lest the University abandon its mission. Technology grants should be extended to remote learners with unreliable equipment, and weekly mental and physical well-being checks for all students should become a mainstay of pandemic life at Yale.
As the University looks to welcome new students to campus, faculty and administration must completely reform their approach to education and community building to create a safe second home for new Yalies. Zoom will likely be the primary mode of interaction for the foreseeable future. Although that restricts student engagement, it also provides ample opportunity for innovative ways to connect.
Because many of us will be cooped up in our dorm rooms and homes, Zoom meetings need to become more intimate. The University should think of creative ways to use the tools we have to develop meaningful relationships with students. We should feel like we are part of the Yale community even from our isolated living spaces.
There is even a chance to rethink the traditional learning experience entirely. Pre-recorded lectures present an opportunity to center students’ needs in the educational experience, allowing them to engage with course material at their own pace.
As a whole, the Yale experience must be reimagined to be more dynamic and inclusive, and when that happens, Yale cannot forget the unique needs of first-year students. We need the support from faculty and administration to adjust to the demands of college life, transition to adulthood, and, ultimately, feel at home at Yale.
CALEB DUNSON is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .