What will our new normal look like? — How a pandemic changes college culture

As in-person instruction resumes and students flood back to campus, many wonder what university life will look like in the wake of COVID-19. Students are eager to get back to their lives and make up for lost time after months of confinement. Unfortunately, life as we knew it is gone. Now we must learn to adapt or risk serious illness. 

Studying in a crowded library, eating dinner with friends in the dining hall and exploring nightlife in the city are rites of passage for young adults. These little moments can make or break the college experience and contribute to personal growth.

Georgia State’s published guidelines for fall semester throw a wrench into many students’ expectations of college life. For campus residents, no guests are permitted in university housing. For a lot of students, college friends become a second family. Having individual space to host them is important for creating lasting bonds.

Now that students are expected to be alone all the time, a downfall in the mental health of the student body should be expected. 

Another guideline states that students are not allowed to attend parties or social gatherings. Some believe that events, such as frat parties or bar hopping, can still happen while wearing masks. It is unlikely that either of those events will be able to continue for more than several weeks when case numbers rise again.

Those choosing to self-isolate may experience other obstacles, such as an increased desire to use substances when alone to cope with the stress of COVID-19 conditions and the lack of normalcy. While these rules are put in place to protect the well-being of residents, they are bound to create or exacerbate feelings of sadness and anxiety.

For commuter students, this semester brings up an entirely different set of challenges. The blended learning model strips Georgia State of any individuality, mirroring a community college. 

Emma Nicholson, a sophomore, said that “[Georgia State] has always been different because it’s a commuter school.”

“We never really had school spirit,” she said. “With no activities on campus to unify students, the disconnect between us will continue to grow.” 

Lack of student unity and feelings of isolation were already an issue at Georgia State. Commuter students often get a lot of their social and educational needs met while on campus.

Whether it is at office hours with a professor or grabbing lunch at Chick-fil-A, public spaces are necessary. Those are places where commuter students create their college memories.

It is still unclear if the occupancy rate of places such as Student Center East or the library will be cut. If so, lots of commuter students will be displaced daily and be unable to have their needs met. 

The new college culture will be unfulfilling and draining. Georgia State’s approach is not sustainable, given its location and number of students. It is only a matter of time before we are sent home to do online classes. Unfortunately, many college students will not have the coming-of-age experiences that they anticipated.

Perhaps trial and error in the coming months will lead to creative yet safe forms of socialization. If not, COVID-19 could negatively impact students for years to come.