Alice Mao

In the months leading up to my arrival at Yale, I met students from almost all 14 residential colleges. Every time they introduced themselves over email or Zoom, they would proudly proclaim that their college is, objectively, the best residential college at Yale. I quickly caught on to the sense of pride and competition that permeates the residential college system; however, I didn’t fully understand it until I spent two weeks locked within the walls of Morse College (which is, objectively, the best residential college).

When I first learned about the 14-day arrival quarantine that would await me when I moved into Morse, I seriously considered waiting two weeks to come; my Pennsylvania residence placed me on Connecticut’s nice list, and I could have avoided the quarantine. Now, a week out, I cannot imagine a bigger mistake I could have made. The two weeks I spent with the frosh in Morse introduced me to approximately 100 of the best people I know, and most of us shared a bittersweet sense of loss when Morse opened to the wider Yale and New Haven communities.

The class of 2024 has never been in college before — most of us only have a vague idea of exactly what we’re missing. We all enjoyed watching our virtual opening ceremony: the speeches were insightful, the a cappella performances were stunning, and of course we all loved hearing President Peter Salovey say, “OK, Boomer.” However, sitting alone in our dorms and watching a YouTube video simply did not have the same gravitas that the ceremony should have had. Whenever we were introduced to new Yale traditions, we were reminded by upperclassmen of what those moments should have looked like: all of us first years in our pajamas with free pizza or crowding together to play games. After spending the last three months of our senior years watching the celebrations we had awaited for four years slip through our fingers, these reminders felt cruel, despite their kind intentions.

What I and, I imagine, most of the class of 2024 have learned over the past year is that we are far happier when we focus on what we do have, not on everything we’re missing. In that same spirit, I posit that our two week quarantine was one of the most effective ways possible to form meaningful bonds with those around us, even without group movie nights or college teas.

Call it Stockholm syndrome, but something about spending countless hours every day with the same people under the same giant white tent for two weeks straight creates a pretty strong connection — one I highly doubt we would have developed under normal circumstances. I’m not the kind of person to walk up to strangers and introduce myself. Under quarantine, though, everyone seemed to become part of one big group, and it was easy for me to grab a seat next to someone I had never spoken to and find something we had in common. Jonathan Edwards first year Anna Martinelli-Parker ’24 told me the quarantine encouraged connections to be made, “not just in the form of individual friendships but also as a sense of community with the residential college.” Bao Phan ’24, a first year in Trumbull explained how “some of the social pressure was alleviated and [we] were able to form closer relationships with a lot of people that extend beyond the first hello.” Even now, after almost three weeks, I feel comfortable introducing myself to the few people in my college who I haven’t yet met, with none of the anxiety that I might otherwise have.

During quarantine, I looked forward to exploring New Haven. I was excited to stop in every single coffee shop in the city and have access to food at every hour of the day, not just at designated mealtimes. I looked forward to studying somewhere other than the couch on the second floor of the Morse library. I wasn’t alone in these wishes. The consensus seemed to be that, as wonderful as quarantine had been for many first years, most of us craved space to go for a run, explore new options for study spaces and experience New Haven’s famous food scene. Many students also have friends in other residential colleges, and they were eager to see those friends in person.

Still, I remember sitting with a few friends in Morse the Sunday night before the first wave of arrival quarantines ended. We discussed our plans for our first days of freedom excitedly, but we also recognized our unexpected desire for things to stay just as they were. We swapped schemes for keeping the gates of Morse closed for good, and while we were mostly kidding, the sentiment was real. Our worlds would explode after those first few days out of arrival quarantine, and the stakes would become higher in every way. We could no longer take solace in the knowledge that every student in Morse had tested negative for COVID-19 four or five times. Now the whole world could enter the courtyard and common spaces that we had come to call home.

As we enter the second week of “freedom,” most first-year students have found their new routines and will continue to explore New Haven, taking runs at East Rock and meeting new people at Cross Campus. But I know for certain that I will miss those two weeks. I will miss ordering bubble tea on DoorDash and begging the drivers to bring our food right up to the gate. I will miss nightly FroCo meetings and introducing myself, my hometown and my major on a daily basis. 

I’m not sure if my feelings about the quarantine are simply my brain’s desperate attempt to pretend I don’t mind starting college during a pandemic. But I’m fairly certain that, given the circumstances, I could not have hoped for a better start to college. Ever since our senior years were cut short in March, the class of 2024 has had to look hard for silver linings. During the past two weeks, though, the silver lining wasn’t hard to find.

Rachel Folmar | rachel.folmar@yale.edu