Students navigate different levels of Covid-19 risk tolerance, social life

By Lily Jones

Van Barth
During the warmer weather at the beginning of the fall semester, students were able to spend more time socializing, studying and eating meals outside.

Covid-19 restrictions, such as room capacity and limiting close contacts, have put a new strain on student social life. Knowing that people have a wide range of risk tolerances when it comes to potential Covid-19 exposure, students also face the added challenge of navigating friendships.

“Some people don’t feel comfortable going to team practices outside or they shower at 2 a.m. to avoid people, and there are other people walking around without masks on at night or having crowded parties,” Nhi Dang ’23 said. “It’s a new part of social interactions. You have to make sure everyone is comfortable and on the same page with Covid-19 and it can be awkward if you aren’t.” 

Some of this discomfort can also manifest when students have had to confront peers who are not following on-campus Covid-19 guidelines. 

Isabel Linhares ’22, who is studying in person this year, recalled a scenario in which another student was not following physical distancing guidelines in the dining hall line last semester.

“I asked them to please back up just a little… they essentially told me I was naïve for expecting folks to social distance properly,” Isabel Linhares ’22 said.

The burden of speaking out about peers’ risky behavior often falls on students who are most at risk for severe complications of Covid-19, according to Linhares.

Such uncomfortable social situations in the fall have led some students concerned about Covid-19 risk to complete the spring semester remotely. Others, unhappy with what they saw as restrictive Covid-19 safety policies, have also elected to complete their spring coursework online, often from locations with more relaxed approaches to public health.

First years and first-year Febs have had the added challenge of forming friendships within the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions. Keziah Wilde ’24 felt that on-campus rules, such as room capacities, made it more challenging to make friends last semester. Even so, Wilde felt that the unusual form social interaction took sometimes had the effect of strengthening students’ connections.

“There was something binding about things like watching movies outdoors when it’s freezing,” Wilde said. “There is something funny about that, which makes it memorable.” 

However, Wilde still felt that the rules were an impediment to forming friendships. 

“It’s not like breaking rules looks cool. It just makes it easier to make friends when rules are broken,” Wilde said. “The reason that rules are upheld is because it makes people more comfortable, not actually for preventing Covid.”

As the spring semester progresses, some students feel that an increasing number of their peers are violating Covid-19 guidelines.

“[After initial weeks] most students seemed to relax not only their own definitions of closely following the guidelines, but also their expectations of others and their willingness to hold each other accountable,” Linhares said.

Many students have violated Covid-19 guidelines this year. A survey conducted by The Campus found that 354 out of 550 respondents broke Covid-19 health protocols in the fall semester. In September, 22 students were removed from campus following two Thursday-night gatherings that exceeded occupancy and indoor gathering limits in Atwater suites.

The college has reported 126 substantiated rule violations this spring, and two students have been removed from campus.

Throughout the four-day midterm recess that took place last week, many students flocked to Lake Dunmore and some gathered in unmasked groups by the lakeshore, prompting an email from Dean of Students Derek Doucet.

“In speaking with some of you who were there, it was clear that yesterday’s gathering was the inadvertent result of multiple groups of friends and close contacts all having the same idea of going to Dunmore on a beautiful spring day,” Doucet said in the Saturday morning email. “The final result however was that too many people gathered in one place, and it cannot happen again.”  

Currently, one student is in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 on April 5, according to the college’s Covid-19 reporting dashboard.

Ben Gooch, Associate Director of Clinical Operations at the Center for Health and Wellness, has noticed worrying trends among students that use counseling services. He acknowledges that changes to social life may have played a role.

“The level of inconvenience it takes to meet up with people in safe ways has made people less willing to reach out to friends that they may be less close with,” Gooch said. “There’s a lot less of running into people in the gym or dining hall in the same way.” 

Some students struggle with internal debates about whether or not to socialize if it means breaking the rules. 

“I work with students who mention they feel socially isolated so they want to see people, but when they see people they feel anxiety or discomfort of being caught,” Gooch said.

Gooch hasn’t heard from students about pressures to break rules to fit in, but did hear that Covid-19 rules have made some students more isolated.

“What Covid has allowed for is that some people naturally gravitate towards spending time alone, and Covid has given permission,” Gooch said. 

Many students have taken to anonymous social media accounts like the Instagram account @middconfessions to express their frustrations. One post from Feb. 28 reads, “I know Covid restrictions are only gonna be this strict for a little over a week, but I’m so worried [about] missing out [because] I don’t want to break them to the extremes of others.” Another post expresses similar worries, “Being the friend group left out of the group due to Covid regulations sucks…I can’t help but feel personally hurt by it.”