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locust-walk-fall-leaves

It is unknown whether classes will be remote or on-campus for the fall semester. 

Credit: Kylie Cooper

A few weeks ago, my dad FaceTimed me and asked me a thought-provoking question to help wake up my brain as I lay in bed: “Are you saving money doing classes online? What if college courses were all online, and college campuses were just repurposed? Wouldn’t that benefit everyone?” 

I was skeptical. I couldn’t imagine Penn without students and faculty roaming around campus. In a recent Forbes article, many high school and college students rated virtual learning as less effective than in-person learning and that they would be less likely to consider virtual learning in the future. These high schoolers are potentially Penn’s prospective students, so we should listen to their in-person learning preference. 

With the federal government’s current social distancing recommendations, it is best for us to remain in our homes until the experts say it’s safe to come out again. However, once we return to campus, we should not fear the precious in-person connections that make Penn wonderful. 

Even though we have transitioned to online classes as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, it does not mean that virtual learning is the future of education. I understand that some things will change in society after this crisis comes to an end, but I don’t think the on-campus college experience is going to be one of them. 

Being on a college campus allows us to spread our wings of individuality and learn how to take care of ourselves as responsible young adults. Living together gives us the opportunity to join communities to which we’d like to contribute. We can participate in student government, community service organizations, athletic teams, performing arts groups, political organizations, research and [fill in the blank of a community you belong to]. These opportunities are best served to the on-campus lifestyle because we can create experiences that are impossible to do virtually: We cannot put on musicals, or volunteer with kids, or play our favorite sport, or do many other activities that require in-person contact.

For me, my Penn experience has been enriched by many on-campus resources: being a performer/leader at the Platt Student Performing Arts House, reconnecting with my Jewish roots at Penn Hillel, learning how to cope with anxiety at CAPS, and developing into a stronger leader during a retreat with the Office of Student Affairs. 

I’m glad that we have the chance to experiment with virtual learning because it allows us to think creatively of new ways to learn in class and to socialize with friends. Yet, I cannot imagine a Penn experience that does not include landmarks like Locust Walk, the LOVE Statue, and all the other locations on campus that mean so much to us.  

Imagine one place that “feels like home” for you on campus. Imagine if you weren’t able to experience it in person? Would it feel different?

Being on campus allows students to learn from brilliant professors who can become our mentors, yet these relationships are hard to foster from afar.

I believe college is more than what we learn in the classroom. College is about the relationships we form, the experiences we share, and the lessons we learn. Yes, we can build relationships over Zoom, but it is not the same as connecting with someone in person. Being on campus is meaningful because we can share spontaneous memories that can only happen in person, like dancing with our friends at formals or running into them on Locust. 

A memorable part of the college experience is spending time in those meaningful places where we feel like we belong.

I love how the trees on Locust Walk change colors with the seasons. I enjoy seeing my friends in Platt House on my way to rehearsal. I look forward to engaging with my professors by asking them questions in real time.

We can best serve ourselves and future generations of Penn students by keeping the on-campus experience alive. It’s been a tradition to have in-person learning experiences since our school’s founding in 1740, and Penn’s on-campus experience is a tradition worth preserving.

JADEN CLOOBECK is a College sophomore from Laguna Beach, Calif. studying Psychology and Theatre Arts. His email address is jaden@sas.upenn.edu.

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