As this term draws to a close, there’s a cautious optimism among Penn students. COVID-19 cases at Penn remain low, students are getting vaccinated, and Penn intends to hold in-person classes this fall, with vaccines required of all students.
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After spending a few months here, I’ve grown to love Kings Court English College House, my college house. I enjoy a larger dorm room than my peers at Hill College House and it never gets too loud in the hallways, which can’t always be said for the Quad. My podmates are amazing, and I am eager to share a suite with them next year. But while I highly recommend Kings Court English College House to incoming first years, I can’t help wondering: what if I had gone somewhere else?
When I was accepted to Penn last March, I was completely floored. Penn is known for being the “Social Ivy” and was ranked as the number one party school by Playboy Magazine in 2014. I’m a chronic wallflower. Why did Penn’s admissions team think I belong here?
It’s expected that some parts of the college experience are going to be different when you arrive on campus in the middle of a pandemic. Instead of running across campus to lectures, I’ve been racing to COVID-19 testing sites with my PennCard in one hand and a loading OpenPass in the other. Instead of being social at parties and club meetings, I have a schedule jam-packed with Zooms. And instead of eating communally in buffet-style dining halls, I shuffle into Hill, grab a pre-packaged meal, and dine in my dorm during an online lecture.
No one said that moving thousands of students on campus in the middle of a pandemic would be easy. That’s why Penn delayed move-ins in the first place, when they had yet to implement cohesive testing and isolation protocols. But when we look at the numbers, Penn has pulled off what seemed impossible last year: a successful move-in while coronavirus cases nationwide are higher than ever. The cumulative coronavirus prevalence rate on campus is only 1.21%, and a week out from move-in, 90.3% of on-campus isolation capacity remains available.
I enjoy writing articles that encourage Penn students to take action. But after an attempted coup, it is naive to argue that students alone can resolve the partisan tensions that are threatening to tear the United States apart. Collectively, we are students entering Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Constitution, at a time when the document’s power is weaker than ever. We just lived through an insurrection. And the more I watch the news, the more powerless I feel.
During one of my classes, a professor grumbled that if we were going to stare at our phones for the entire lecture, we may as well like his lab’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts while we’re at it. The professor couldn’t see me since my camera was off, but at that moment, I put my phone down, ashamed. He didn’t have to be so snotty about our social media addiction, but he does have a point.
Did anyone pay attention in class during election week? If so, I’m dying to know how you did it. Sure, the Zoom tab for my physics lecture was front-and-center on my laptop, but I was really looking at The New York Times' Electoral College map on my second monitor. And listening to CNN from my TV. And scrolling through FiveThirtyEight’s live updates on my phone, for good measure.
Election week has been a stressful time for most Penn students. Personally, I’ve been refreshing FiveThirtyEight every ten minutes, looking for Biden’s leads to turn into a Biden victory. However, a voter’s perspective of the election depends a great deal on who they voted for. Even as Joe Biden appears to be on the verge of victory, more than half of Trump supporters think that Trump has won. Though Fox News and several prominent Republicans are pushing back against Trump’s claims of voter fraud, still others have sided with him. Although disinformation has been especially prevalent over the past few days, our troublesome relationship with the truth runs far beyond one election.
With the general election fast approaching, an already polarized America is experiencing a new level of discord. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump was casting doubt on our elections process. Now, both he and our democracy have fallen ill. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 49% of Americans anticipate that it will be difficult to vote in this election. A Monmouth University poll found that only 22% of Americans are very confident this election will be conducted fairly and accurately. For a democracy, these are disturbing numbers.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, college students were facing an epidemic of loneliness, which has spawned viral videos, psychology articles, and several DP columns discussing the topic. But the loneliness of previous years is nothing compared to how students feel now.