This editorial is a reflection on the Zeitgeist 2021 survey results. You can read all of the results here.
As we near the end of our second Covid-era college semester, we should take a pause and allow ourselves to mourn what could have been. What could have been a student’s first year characterized by spontaneity rather than loneliness, a sophomore year filled with unexpected run-ins and meetups with friends new and old, a junior year spent getting to know your major’s professors and the eclectic books on their shelves in Davis, or a senior year memorialized by “lasts” of everything left on your bucket list: Proc Crush Lists hook-ups, spring breaks in anywhere but Addison County and of course a crowded graduation with all your family and friends present.
But none of these dreams were realized. Instead, one fourth of our college experience (or more, if you started counting last March) has been tainted by distance, isolation and shattered expectations. This is a eulogy, in a way, to what we lost.
College students around the country and abroad experienced unique struggles during this pandemic. While most of us at Midd came back to campus this year, many of our friends studied remotely or took the semester off entirely. When we arrived on campus we were greeted by unfamiliar “SIX FEET APART” stickers, regulations dictating which dining halls we were allowed to eat at, and only a small circle of “close contacts” to satisfy our need for connection. Not only were these challenging adjustments to make, but they often felt like mandatory sacrifices we had no choice but to accept. The temporariness of college made these changes particularly painful.
Our 2021 Zeitgeist survey contextualized these struggles and demonstrated how many of these sacrifices were felt universally in our community, though perhaps to differing degrees. A vast majority of students reported feeling some pressure to break Covid-19 protocols to be included in social activities (and this pressure particularly affected first years and baby Febs). The number of students who claimed to be part of multiple friend groups shrank from about two thirds of respondents last year to less than one third this year. Students rarely saw Zoom events as places of connection, and modality (being an in-person or remote student) had a stark impact on the shaping of social life.
We lost so many significant, quintessentially college things — we must take a moment to recognize that.
In relishing the nostalgia of past years and far away experiences, we should observe how important those aspects of life were to us. Covid-19 has brought to light everything we took for granted, whether we liked it or not. We had not appreciated the unexpected encounters with friends of friends or in-person classes and meetings. We had not recognized how lucky we were to have such proximity and intimacy with each other until we were forced to spend this year mostly alone.
The silver lining is that with the ongoing vaccine rollout, the fall will provide us with an opportunity to implement everything we learned from this experience. The fall is our chance to heal and rebuild our community exactly how we wish to. The pandemic allowed for increased transparency and honesty surrounding mental health struggles — we gave each other permission to share what was previously kept private. This year we also were more intentional with our friendships, making sure to follow up with people to grab meals or take walks. We also got better at spending time alone, whether that was when we got sent home last March, or during our time back on campus. Taking solo meals or even entire nights for ourselves to recharge should not be judged but understood as valuable and necessary.
We were wholly unprepared to deal with the unwelcome changes that came from this global pandemic, and we must allow ourselves this time to reflect and grieve what could have been. This year’s Zeitgeist results reflected loss, isolation and uncertainty in a student body struggling to cope with profound change — yet they also showed resilience. Here’s to hoping next year’s Zeitgeist results show healing.