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Glad to be Back! Tulane University, Spring 2021

Excited, a little nervous, happy and hopeful. These are some of the emotions expressed by students Tulane Today interviewed midway through their third full week of spring semester classes. When it comes to an in-person campus experience, Tulane students have voted with their feet. More than 93 percent arrived back on campus this spring after last year’s historic return to campus.

Graduate students Zhipeng Chen and Yuwei Bao were on their way to their scheduled COVID-19 tests when asked about how they felt about being back in-person this semester.

Zhipeng Chen and Yuwei Bao

“For me, I think in person is better than online. When I was in my room, I always feel sleepy, but in the classroom, the professor is there and you can have eye-contact with them. I think it’s better for me,” Chen, a first-year PhD student from China majoring in biostatistics at the School of Public Health, said.

Bao, who is Chen’s housemate, said she feels more engaged when attending in-person classes. She said being in person helps with her assisting other students as a Teacher’s Assistant. “I do TA’ing visitations for the undergraduate students, and my students told me that they feel better if they can comment and ask questions in person. It’s more connection that way,” she said.

Bao said some of her friends back home are a little nervous since COVID-19 cases are still prevalent in the United States but she is hopeful now that the vaccine is rolling out.

Chen said he is scheduled to receive his first dose of the vaccine through Tulane as the university was recently designated a vaccine distribution site by the Louisiana Department of Health. The designation allows Tulane to receive vaccines directly from manufacturers and provide immunizations for those in the university community who are eligible under state guidelines. So far, faculty, staff and students at the School of Medicine, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and School of Social Work who work directly with others in the New Orleans community are being vaccinated. Additionally, Campus Health staff, frontline food service and custodial/operations staff and university employees over 70 years of age are being vaccinated as well.

Chen said some of his classmates who meet state requirements have already received the vaccine. He said he feels excited to receive his first dose, but a little nervous too. “There are some adverse events that have happened like dizziness, (feeling) sleepy and fatigue and they feel the soreness,” he said.

Melisa Toilolo

Melisa Toilolo, a first-year undergraduate student from California, who is majoring in Kinesiology and is a member of Tulane’s Track and Field team, said being at Tulane is a “big change from high school.”

“(My last year) was very terrible. Because my class, we had waited four years to graduate and walk (across the stage), and we couldn’t do it,” she said. “It kind of messed up everything, but at least we got our diplomas, and now I’m here (at Tulane).” Toilolo said of her time at Tulane so far, “I actually really like all my classes. Everything’s going smoothly.”

She said track and field practice is pretty “normal,” but the team just has to keep in mind to stay six feet apart. “But it’s fun,” Toilolo said. “I love it here, and I love athletics.”

She said she is still adjusting to campus life, and her family is a little nervous since they’re far away. “They're concerned because I'm by myself. I really don't know anybody here, but just a few people, but they're okay (overall) because I'm here getting an education.”

Sydnee Sherrick

Sydnee Sherrick, a sophomore from Royersford, Pennsylvania, is a public health and international relations major with minors in Spanish and public policy. Sherrick believes it is vital to be back on campus and that being sent home last spring “kind of stung,” but she was glad to return last fall.

“Arriving last fall was strange in the beginning, but it soon began to feel normal,” she said. “Not being able to attend meetings for my extracurriculars in person or socialize with friends like I used to was difficult, but I could still do some of the normal activities. I began to spend more time outside, such as hammocking and going for walks that I did not do as much in previous semesters.”

Now back on campus for the spring semester, Sherrick is happy to be back with her friends and looks forward to continuing the goals she set last semester.

“I am a part of multiple organizations on campus, including TUCP (Tulane University Campus Programming), RHA (Residence Hall Association) and APO (Alpha Phi Omega), and there are plans set in motion for each of these organizations that I am looking forward to seeing come to fruition. I am also taking a few classes that I am passionate about and better suited for on-campus learning. Last but not least, I am from Pennsylvania, so being back in the warm weather is definitely a plus,” she said.

Vaishnavi “Vishy” Kandala

Vaishnavi “Vishy” Kandala, a first-year political economy marketing major from Trumbull, Connecticut, said her parents were worried about her first semester on campus, but those worries have lessened/tapered.

“My first semester, they were kind of just a little hesitant with the whole COVID thing. But they feel (I’m) really safe because Tulane’s doing a really good job, and they’re really glad that I’m getting the college experience,” she said.

Kandala said she does wish things would go back to normal, “but I’m really glad that I’m able to have an in-person experience even though there are a lot of COVID scares. I just feel like it’s a part of life now, and you just got to learn to roll with the punches and adapt.”

One way she has adapted is by picking up a new hobby: rollerblading. “It’s something I really love doing. I’m not that good at it, but I’m trying to get better. It’s a really nice workout if you don’t want to go to Reily (Student Recreation Center) and (doing it) in Audubon Park is really nice,” she said.

Grayson Meckfessel

A freshman from Moraga, California, Grayson Meckfessel has not yet declared a major. Meckfessel said he enjoyed being on campus last fall, even though “COVID made many things different. But I think Tulane did an excellent job at giving students a 'college experience' amidst the chaos happening in the world.”

Meckfessel said he had not developed any new hobbies other than walking his dog, an Australian Shepherd named Scout when he is back home. However, he has taken the time to expand his cooking expertise, stating “I've cooked 300 times more than I would have been in normal times, but I enjoy it.”

He has also acquired a new late-night snack. “My favorite midnight snack, it's really weird, but Atomic Fireballs, the little candies. Those are really good. I eat way too many of those.”

Meckfessel said his return to campus for the spring semester was a seamless transition and he was a huge proponent of the COVID-19 testing at the Arrival Center. “Nothing out of the ordinary or particularly arduous happened (during move-in), and I liked how Tulane reduced the quarantine time in the Hyatt (Regency). I'm glad that it's (the testing) free and so thoroughly executed by the university. Though I wish the Hyatt Regency wasn't so far away from campus, it still is a good location for Tulane to ensure campus safety via the move-in process,” he said.

Ava Davis

Ava Davis is a sophomore from Jackson, Mississippi, who has taken the opportunity to develop both new hobbies and new cooking habits since the pandemic began.

“I listen to a lot more podcasts now, especially documentaries because if I'm sitting in my bed listening to something, I want it to be worthwhile. I've been trying to expand my media intake,” Davis said. “I'm also cooking a lot more. I'm trying to make new things, and I'm trying different ethnic foods from different cultures instead of just eating the same thing.”

Davis returned to campus this spring after studying remotely last fall. While she said, “it wasn’t horrible,” being back on campus makes a world of difference when it comes to learning." It is really important to me to be back on campus. Last semester, I was remote at home, and I needed to change the scenery and see faces again. I'm glad that I get to be more hands-on with my schoolwork. It's definitely helpful that I can be back and in a community of learning,” she said.

Davis said her parents were “fine with me being back on campus because they were pretty neutral, but they were sad to see me go.”

While COVID-19 challenges and restrictions remain, most students interviewed conveyed a growing sense of optimism that, with vaccines rolling out nationwide, the end of the pandemic that has so altered their lives may finally be in sight.