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Credit: Felicity Yick

After over a year of pandemic-induced shutdowns, first-year students are excited to navigate a seemingly normal campus environment buzzing with parties and in-person classes. 

Four first years, who requested anonymity due to possible repercussions, spoke to The Daily Pennsylvanian about their largely positive New Student Orientation experiences during a new wave of the pandemic. Unafraid, students are largely unmasked while outside and many are attending large Greek life parties and other on-campus social events. 

While some believe that contracting COVID-19 is inevitable on a full campus, students said they are not worried about experiencing detrimental symptoms from the virus due to Penn's vaccination requirement for students, faculty, and staff. Over 99.99% of fully vaccinated people have not had a case resulting in hospitalization or death, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An international first-year student said that, while he and his friends will continue to wear masks when required and follow other safety precautions, they believe they will inevitably contract the virus this semester because of the large amount of people back on campus. They, however, are not worried about serious consequences like hospitalization or death due to the vaccines.

“We all know that Penn has the vaccine mandate, and so pretty much everybody you see has been vaccinated. But nobody's wearing masks or anything,” the Wharton first year said.

A first year in the School of Engineering and Applied Science agreed, saying they were not concerned about COVID-19, although they did not see any students wearing masks at the Greek life parties they had attended during NSO, which took place from Aug. 25 to Aug. 30. 

“I knew all my friends were vaccinated — everyone I spoke to was. We didn't meet anyone who wasn't vaccinated, even with other NSO events,” the Engineering first year said. 

Last year, Penn’s Student Campus Compact required students to agree to “congregate only in designated outdoor and indoor areas of campus, wearing a facial covering, maintaining adequate physical distance.” Off-campus Greek life parties nevertheless occurred, prompting Senior Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tamara Greenfield King to warn Greek life leaders to stop in-person events, after a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases were linked to fraternities. 

The Student Campus Compact is not in effect now, although students are now required to wear masks indoors. Penn's current positivity rate is 0.84% for the week of Aug. 22 to Aug. 28. At other campuses, including Duke University, COVID-19 cases have spiked despite high vaccination rates among their students.

King wrote in an emailed statement to the DP on Aug. 26 that “[Office of Fraternity/Sorority Life] groups are held to the same standard as other student groups" this semester. "We are following all of the [COVID-19] guidance provided by Penn," King wrote in an email sent on Sept. 1. 

In an email sent to the Penn community on Aug. 25, Penn administrators wrote that “special events and large gatherings are strongly recommended to be held outside and with precautions in place.” Masks or social distancing measures are not required outdoors.

A Wharton first year and a College first year said all the parties they’ve attended have been filled close to capacity, with students packed into high-density fraternity basements, drinking and dancing. The Wharton first year described all of the parties as having “​​LED lights, bumpin’ bass, and just way too many bodies.”

“Of the parties that I've been to, unless it's a select group of people that I already knew, [they] just tend to be packed. And given the summer heat, and the fact that a lot of them are indoors to avoid detection or whatnot, it ends up getting really sweaty and nasty,” the College first year said.  

The Wharton first year similarly said most parties have been indoors and in basements of fraternities in an attempt to avoid getting shut down by Penn Police. An Engineering first year agreed, alleging that a party they attended was shut down by Penn Police because there were too many people. Of the four parties that the Wharton first year attended during NSO, they said two of them were shut down by the Penn Police.

Both the College and Wharton first years said that a majority of the first years they have met on campus have at least tried going to a party, and added that the isolation first years experienced during the pandemic contributed to the prevalence of partying this year. 

“People [have been] going out just because the last year and a half has been pretty lonely, and I definitely hear from a lot of people that they're just going to parties for the experience and because they hear that that's the thing to do. So I guess there's a lot of social pressure to go,” the Wharton first year said. 

Parties also are a way for first years and sophomores to find connections with upperclassmen, the College first year said.

“It's actually incredible to find people who share my interests and who I just bump into, maybe make a joke, and suddenly, we're just talking about our majors. And I'm getting advice on stuff I never thought I would at a frat party," they said.