Looking back at La Salle’s return to face-to-face learning — Editorial


The Editorial Board

Header Image: La Salle University

The 2021-2022 academic year marks La Salle’s first full year back, with events, breaks and studies following the traditional cadence that was expected from an in-person Lasallian education. While the spring 2021 semester was the La Salle community’s first re-introduction to in-person learning and living, it was very much a bumpy ride and a Band-Aid solution. We were here at the end of the last academic year, but we weren’t really here. This year, we came into our own again, and for some of us, got to experience the school as it was intended for the first time.

Now, as the members of the Editorial Board are studying for their final exams, packing up, getting ready to move back home for the summer or isolating to stay safe during this last minute COVID wave, we wanted to look back on this year, and celebrate the fact that we made it a whole year, not just without being sent home, but with a great sense of community and pride that we came together to make things work in a time filled with so much uncertainty.

As the new Editorial Board found its voice, we frequently commented on the progress the university was making in terms of COVID-19 cases, behavior and understanding, and so many changes came in just two semesters.

We eventually stopped writing these pieces because a general sense of comfort fell over the university, particularly when we followed the city in lifting the mask mandate, and things have felt very uplifting since then. But, being our last editorial of this year, we wanted to look back and just discuss everything we felt and everything that happened in this whirlwind of a year.

Perhaps the biggest change to on-campus life this year was in-person learning. While some of us had in-person classes at La Salle in the spring of 2021, the fall 2021 semester opened in-person and hybrid classes to so many more people, and many more professors moved away from online only modality. Some members of our board experienced their first in-person classes during this semester despite already being sophomores at La Salle.

Relationships had to be rekindled, and for underclassmen, these people who previously occupied a small box on their computer monitor were now living, breathing members of their lives. Beyond this, heightened vaccination rates eased many students’ minds, particularly those who were not keen on in-person learning in the spring of 2021.

Even though our desks were pushed far apart, we had assigned seats, we didn’t recognize each other or couldn’t hear each other in masks, it was still great to finally get to see so many familiar faces and be sat in these places that for some of us felt like home, and for others, would become a home away from home. Stopping by Saxby’s before class, passing someone you hadn’t seen since March of 2020 in the Hayman hallways or checking the seating chart and seeing new faces you’ve never met in person, only on a Zoom screen, the feeling was incredibly powerful.

But, it wasn’t just in-person classes, it was on-campus life. People were living on campus in the spring of 2021, but for a majority of students, that meant staying in your dorm or townhouse and seeing the same three or four people every day, afraid to venture out to meet others, either because rules were unclear, COVID was coming in waves or the risk of losing that small bit of human interaction because you went to the wrong party was just so terrifying. 

This year, with the low levels of cases being reported toward the end of the year, the university trying to promote some in-person events and moving onto campus in the summer instead of the dead of winter proved to be the push that people needed to get out and be a community again. We remember meeting up with our friends again, taking our masks off and knowing that we would be safe and just ready to be college students again in every sense, not just academically.

While events like the on-campus formal dance may have pushed the limits of our comfort in terms of the COVID risk, others like the school’s annual Homecoming celebration, wine tastings and weekly Late Night La Salle events went off without a hitch. Clubs were allowed to meet in person again, in some cases, with some even hosting events to bolster their numbers in a time when most clubs are bleeding seniors and not finding any newcomers.

Image courtesy of Jakob Eiseman
The Collegian‘s office in the Union that was once a place of collaboration and paper editing returned to its roots this year.

For us, returning to the Collegian’s office in the union meant more than we could have imagined. It’s dingy, it’s dusty and it took us about 10 full hours to clean out after over a year of being uninhabited, but the office was shaped up, and we returned to create the paper. We met as a group, some of us for the first time ever, and were able to bounce ideas off of each other, plan future issues using white boards, use body language to describe how we felt and avoid all of the awkwardness that came with meeting over Zoom, and the paper was so much better off for it.

Just something as simple as being able to have a club meeting in person or sit in Blue and Gold or the Union and have lunch with people who weren’t our roommates made the campus feel alive and vibrant, even on days when it was dead compared to its past peak. 

The important thing to remember, is that through all of this, vaccination and proper masking were the first lines of defense to us maintaining a proper campus environment, but people being selective with their social groups, avoiding crowded parties and public places when applicable, testing and properly reporting results to quarantine with accordance to guidelines helped us truly come through to where we are now. 

The school can only give us so many freedoms before we have the chance to ruin it — but we didn’t ruin it. People knew how important it was to stay COVID safe, so even when we went out, it was with people we trust, and we maintained proper social distancing or contact tracing.

The La Salle community has shown over the course of this year that it does have the ability to help restore campus to what it was prior to COVID. Through diligence, kindness and care, the La Salle community has properly dealt with the return to campus and helped restore trust in the collective’s involvement in the school both in and outside of the classroom.

As shown in classes where polled students did ask for masks to be worn, students managed to come together with little to no issues in wearing masks for those who needed to or felt uncomfortable when they were not worn. All around, even after COVID policies were relaxed, students continued to work towards helping others feel comfortable and safe during their time at La Salle.

With the exception of one time where the campus community was forced into an online modality due to case numbers, we have had no incidents or major outbreaks of note in the whole year, and we believe that, even though mitigating COVID-19 cases requires just the bare minimum amount of care on behalf of well-minded students, that we all still deserve a pat on the back.

That includes our amazing professors, who risked their health day after day to come in and teach. Some professors were open about the fact that they were at risk, or lived with those who were, and needed students to be very strict on mask wearing and contact tracing for the safety of their academic leaders, and the La Salle community was staunchly accepting of this.

As far as checkpoints go, we made it so far that the testing center was able to downsize and move out of Treetops Cafe, as the capacity needed was reduced by so much, we were able to drop the mask requirement on campus, even in the classroom, making classes seem much more personal and familiar now, with many of us unmasking in front of each other for the first time in years.

While we are unfortunately going through a small COVID wave right now, with about 30 cases being reported this week, for most of this semester, the average weekly case count was less than 10, reporting zero cases for several weeks. In total for this whole second semester, we have only seen about 300 cases and around 75 percent of the campus community is fully vaccinated with their booster.

Get boosted if you haven’t already.

We can feel the overall spirit of La Salle rekindling. Students are on the quad and hanging with classmates in the Union. Some of us on the Board spent our first year completely online, and this year has shown us why we chose to come to La Salle in the first place: the Lasallian people and community. These people are the Christian Brothers, the professors who know your name and the students you have come to know so well. The chapel bell rings and all we can think is “we’re back.” 

Obviously, we still have many hills to climb, and the university itself has taken a significant hit financially and in terms of enrollment. Dr. Daniel Allen has been brought in to steer the ship, and the economic repercussions of the pandemic are still ravaging universities across the nation. Hopefully the search committee and board of trustees we’re correct in assuming that Allen’s fundraising skills were what La Salle needed to pull us back up as an organization.

But, as a community, we’re here, and we’re here to stay for as long as we are afforded a place in our little corner of Philadelphia.

In an understandably pessimistic piece from April of 2021, the previous Editorial Board wrote, “Zoom classrooms are full of strangers — black screens with audio. Dorms are private spaces. The campus is disconnected. The atomization and thinning of society that we have seen in our world has been mirrored in our corner of the world on Broad and Olney. The La Salle we all remember may never make a full return.” Well, to our long graduated Collegian alumni, and to anyone who may have agreed with that sentiment at that time. We are proud to announce that we are back.

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