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No masking disappointment for some college freshmen

Concord Monitor
Published: 9/13/2020 9:33:36 PM
Modified: 9/13/2020 9:33:34 PM

For first-year college students, making friends and attending parties and school events is all part of the on-campus experience. But this year’s new students have strict rules to follow that are transforming social life.

Christian Barr of Henniker is a first-year student at Plymouth State University. He is enjoying the new-found freedom college life has been providing, but he said the whole experience is very different than he ever imagined.

“It’s a lot of freedom but at the same time it’s not, because there are so many restrictions,” Barr said. “It is what it is. We can’t change it, we just have to follow protocols.”

The protocols for Plymouth State University students involve masks — mandatory in all campus buildings — no gathering in large groups, no visiting friends in other residence halls.

Now, Barr said, a big part of social life at Plymouth is taking outdoor walks in the evenings, and spending time outdoors in small groups.

“I feel nervous going up to meet people because I don’t know if I want to shake their hands,” he said.

Mick Leahy of Concord is a first-year finance major at the University of New Hampshire. He said making friends has been much harder now that classes require distance.

“When I walk into my big lecture halls, they are at 25% capacity, so the next person is five or six seats away with a mask on,” said Leahy. “It’s hard to make small talk.”

At UNH, masks are required in most places except inside the dorm rooms. Leahy says that if an RA sees a student walking to the bathroom without a mask — even in the middle of the night — they will write down their name, and there is a three-strike policy before school officials become involved and the student’s housing status is placed in jeopardy. Signs are prominently displayed everywhere to remind students about the rules.

And the strict rules have been working, he said, at least for the younger students.

“I think the freshmen, they’re being good,” Leahy said. “But I walk downtown at night and I see like five police cars outside the downtown apartments, so I think other people are not being as good about it.”

Positive cases at UNH have been steadily increasing since the start of the year. As of Sept. 2, there were 51 positive cases, primarily concentrated in the Durham campus.

At Keene State College, first-year Benjamin Szum can’t have more than two other people in his dorm room at the same time, and can’t have more than two friends sitting at his table during meal times, but says that despite this, campus life isn’t too different from what he expected.

Like at Plymouth, Keene State students have been finding other places to hang out and talk, Szum said, like the large open quad space by Huntress Hall.

Most of the classes Szum is taking at Keene are “blended,” meaning some days are online and some days are in-person. He says he does his online classes from his dorm room — he doesn’t have a roommate — but wishes remote classes were more participatory.

“I’m not a huge fan of it, because I can’t raise my hand and say something,” Szum said. “It’s like being lectured at and not being able to participate.”

Leahy said that he was disappointed to discover after arriving at college that more of his classes were online than expected. He said he experienced enough online learning during his spring semester of high school and was looking forward to getting out of his room more often. But after a few weeks of classes, he is getting used to the remote ones.

“It’s going much better than I thought,” Leahy said. “The professors now are better with Zoom, so they know how to do more with it.”

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