College in the Time of COVID

By: Audrey McGee

“It wasn’t even a full week [of college] before I got COVID” (Elise Siebert). These are the lives of 3 college freshmen during a global pandemic.

 School time has officially started around the world filled with COVID posters, 6 feet apart stickers, and mask galore! But for some of us, this school year is starting a whole new chapter of our lives, like the college freshman class of 2020. Some of these students have moved out of their hometowns to go to school. Our very own Drew Bethel, Mikyla Khan, and Elise Siebert have done just that. 

One used to be able to find Khan wandering the various halls of Jenks High School, however those days have come and gone. She applied and was accepted into the University of Baylor and their Interdisciplinary Core last year, which she is now attending. She made the 5 hour drive down to Waco, Texas for her orientation day. She explained what the move-in was like once she arrived.

“Baylor has their own special tradition where you park your car in front of your housing area and a bunch of people swarm your car, grab all of your stuff and take it to your room for you.”

Khan said she had plenty of time to check out the campus before heading to her room to unpack. She describes how even in the first week, some dorm floors have been quarantined, even creating their own pulley system for peers to wheel them up some food and other items. 

Being a part of the Interdisciplinary Core at Baylor, she said she was able to meet people before they even got to school. 

“My roommate and I were able to meet each other months before on Facebook so we already knew each other’s life story before we even got here.”

Khan describes Baylor’s COVID policy as “pretty laxs” with them only asking students to wear masks due to the state-wide mask mandate. Although she says regardless of their policies everyone on campus is careful and she feels comfortable going to class each day. However not everyone off campus is being as cautionary as they could be.

“People living off campus are still having their parties, and the cops have been called on them with some being suspended.”

College isn’t everything she expected with having to “stay in your own little bubble” and not being able to go outside as much, however Khan says she is enjoying college regardless. 

Our next Torch graduate, Drew Bethel, does not have it as casual on campus. Bethel is currently a freshman at the University of Kansas. Move-in day was 2 weeks before the actual classes started. She drove with her mom 4 hours up to Lawrence, Kansas for freshman orientation. 

  “Orientation was the same week as move in. They were like ‘you have 60 minutes and one person to help you move in and then we don’t want to see you for 2 weeks,’” Bethel states, “I literally threw all of my stuff in there and left.”

After the first hectic week or so, she settled down into her new life in college. She has all of her classes virtual except for one, yoga, where even in the outside corridors, she is asked to wear a mask. KU has also made it a priority to have students fill out a questionnaire before entering a new location on campus.

“There is a questionnaire that asks you a ton of questions like ‘Have you been to these places in the past 10 days? Have you been in close contact with anyone with COVID?’” Bethel goes on to explain. “You get a QR code telling you that can go in somewhere. And there are these podiums where you can scan these QR codes and clear you to go in.”

The questionnaire isn’t the only precaution they are taking at KU though. Bethel said that they have to have a “go-bag” ready for if you test positive. 

“If they have come by, test me and I have it then you have to take your go bag and either go to the isolation dorm or you can go home. You aren’t allowed back to your room, you have to have your roommate get it to you.” 

She says she has somewhat adjusted well to the virtual format KU has provided saying, “I love virtual schooling, I have done all of my classes before noon and I don’t even have to leave my building.”

Although she does admit one big problem with having to stay in your dorm all day.

“It has been really really hard to meet people. We can’t go to social gatherings or stuff like that.”

  She then describes how she joined one of the sororities on campus in efforts to get around this issue. However, with social distancing she has been unable to see her new sisters unless it’s over a zoom call. She describes how a sorority would meet in person and one was able to mingle with people and make friends. She has somewhat found a way around this wall. Bethel says you have to get creative under these circumstances. 

“You really meet some cool people. It’s just you got to meet them in ways you wouldn’t have thought of before like saying hi to the guy running up the hill behind you.”

Although college isn’t quite what anyone was expecting at KU, Bethel has found a way to make that transition a little easier. Not everyone has had the same experience at school as Bethel has though.

I knew I was going to get it [COVID] at some point, but getting a good education is very important to me.” Siebert continues, “It wasn’t even a full week before I got it [COVID].” 

Siebert packed up to start her trip to Stillwater. It was about a 1.5 hours drive before she finally arrived at what she would soon call home. She goes on to say that they only allowed two people to help her unpack after passing a COVID test first. 

“All of my classes are very socially distanced, you have to wear a mask of course,” Siebert says after her orientation day. “There isn’t much contact with others unless you are in the halls.”

After a couple of days at Oklahoma State University, she made the trip to see her family in Tulsa, OK where she ended up getting a test. The test results came the next day, they were positive. She stayed at home going to school virtually as she quarantined.

“Having to do all of my classes online during Quarantine was rough,  so I was definitely ready to get back”

Throughout the interview, Siebert describes the importance of in-person learning. She goes on to talk about the virtual lectures, no-grade attendance, and online assignments students are able to take if they don’t feel good or don’t feel comfortable with going in-person. 

“If you are going to OSU, everyone knows that there is a chance that you could get it, and people are being smart about it which I like because some people are afraid to get it and everyone has an option.”

She was eventually able to return to OSU, where she remains today. 

These new college freshmen are truly brave for starting this journey in the year of 2020. They will always be remembered on the Jenks campus for all they did in high school but a new chapter of their lives have started. Make sure to wish each of these magnificent ladies luck as they explore into a new beginning.

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