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08-31-21-first-day-of-classes-kylie-cooper-0007

People pack Locust Walk on Aug. 31, the first day of classes of the fall 2021 semester.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

As the pandemic continued, Penn welcomed students back to campus for the spring 2021 semester. While thousands of students returned to campus in mid-January, many chose to stay home due to COVID-19-related fears. 

Classes remained largely virtual until fall 2021, when in-person instruction — as well as the on-campus party scene — resumed. 

Feb. 4 — After the University linked a “disproportionate amount” of COVID-19 cases to Greek life in early February, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tamara Greenfield King demanded that all fraternities and sororities halt in-person social events. King pointed to fraternities that were holding maskless indoor parties and events in downtown Philadelphia and out of state to avoid punishment for breaking the Student Campus Compact.

Feb. 23 — Throughout the spring semester, students who tested positive for COVID-19 were forced to isolate for at least 10 days in Sansom Place West, while students who were exposed to the virus had to self-quarantine in their rooms for 10 days. As a consequence, many students reported warped senses of time and mental exhaustion, which negatively affected their ability to do schoolwork.

March 8 — Penn announced that a limited in-person commencement would be held on May 17 for the Class of 2021. Seniors who participated in Penn’s testing program and followed the Student Campus Compact throughout the spring semester could participate in the ceremony, although guests had to watch the ceremony online. The date fell on the Jewish holiday Shavuot, resulting in a petition asking the University to move the date, which did not occur.

March 15 — First generation, low income students remained frustrated with the University, citing Penn's poor communication and lack of financial support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Students said that they were struggling with financial burdens, worsening mental health, and difficulties finding affordable groceries, and that Penn could have provided better support. 

May 21 — Penn initially announced that fully vaccinated community members would no longer be required to wear a mask outdoors, and later added that masks would no longer be required indoors for vaccinated community members, except for those with certain special circumstances. Students praised these moves, saying they would bring back a “sense of normalcy” to an in-person fall semester. 

June 24 — Penn confirmed plans to conduct a fully in-person fall semester. All students would be required to test for COVID-19 upon arrival, but fully vaccinated students would not be required to regularly test for COVID-19. 

Aug. 5 — Penn reversed several previously announced policies for the fall semester, announcing that masks would be required indoors. 

Aug. 24 — Penn confirmed that all classes across the College of Arts & Sciences, the Wharton School of Business, the School of Nursing, and School of Engineering and Applied Science were slated to be held in person with limited exceptions.  

Sept. 2 — After over a year of virtual learning, students jumped back into the party scene. First years were eager to attend maskless parties during New Student Orientation — some said that contracting COVID-19 might be inevitable, while others said they weren’t worried about experiencing detrimental symptoms from the virus because of Penn’s vaccination requirement. 

Oct. 2 — After over a year of virtual exams, students were forced to adapt their study strategies. Regarding their assessments, students reported facing stricter time constraints and focusing more on memorization, as in-person exams were often closed-book rather than open-note. 

Oct. 19 — In October, Penn issued over 9,000 red PennOpen Passes for COVID-19 testing noncompliance, and later in the month, they restricted noncompliant students' access to academic spaces.

Nov. 11 — Professors and students alike reported struggling with added stress amid the return of in-person midterms after three semesters of virtual exams. Some professors chose to continue delivering exams virtually, citing increased flexibility and decreased pressure. Others returned to in-person midterms, in order to mitigate issues of academic integrity.

Nov. 16 — Penn confirmed that the vast majority of spring semester classes will be held in person. Some Wharton School courses will include virtual instruction, but will still have in-person recitations or office hours.

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