In pictures: The first few days as WU freshmen transition to college life

Words by Matthew Friedman | Photos by Curran Neenan

The students of the Washington University Class of 2024 moved onto the South 40 over three days this weekend, settling in for the final session of orientation and an unprecedented fall semester to come.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

When a car pulled up to its assigned dorm, movers would unload cars in minutes and transport the new student’s belongings to their room.

All students received rapid saliva tests at West Campus before arriving on the South 40. They will live in single rooms to reduce housing density in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. More than 90% of freshmen will live on campus this fall, the Office of Residential Life told Student Life.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

Freshmen were tested upon arrival; those who test negative are given wristbands.

One of the weekend’s more tense moments came Friday night, when a video circulated on social media showing students—masked and unmasked—congregating in large groups outside of the Bear’s Den. The University’s Graduate, Professional and Undergraduate Student Community Pledge and Policy Acknowledgment, which all students are required to sign, mandates that students wear masks outside whenever they are within six feet of others and encourages students to maintain a physical distance whenever possible.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

Freshman Nick Kallah scans for a place to eat after exiting the Bear’s Den. The University removed all seating outside the Bear’s Den after the Friday video surfaced.

Despite concerns regarding violations of those guidelines, many freshmen remained optimistic about their ability to remain safe this fall. “I think a lot of people are overreacting,” freshman Alex Djetto said as he walked past the Swamp Saturday afternoon. “They’re scared of any interaction at all, but I think people have been interacting this way for the past six months and I think [the University] put a lot of good protocols and things to control what’s happening, even if there is a small outbreak.”

Curran Neenan | Student Life

A U-Trucking worker moves some boxes across the South 40 in front of a newly constructed COVID tent.

The University’s reaction to violations were a key factor in whether students thought they would make it through a semester of in-person, on-campus learning. “I think that if WashU is strict with [punishment], others will fall in line and we might be able to make it,” freshman Koji Barrette said. “Otherwise, I think it could crumble.”

Curran Neenan | Student Life

A group of students walk past Olin Library.

As freshman Grace Lai sat with Barrette outside the Bear’s Den on Saturday afternoon, she was still unsure if she could trust her new peers to follow the COVID-19 guidelines and keep each other safe. But she said she would remain hopeful. “I think that with this year and coronavirus, a lot of kids just want to have some sense of normalcy, especially first-year college students like us,” she said. “So I’m very hopeful that we’re able to get through this semester without [anyone saying] ‘You gotta go home.’”

Curran Neenan | Student Life

A family from New York with an especially packed van required the attention of two moving crews to unpack.

Other students mirrored that same hope, even as they stayed wary of large groups of students.

Freshman Joanna Chen recalled that the worst guideline violations she had seen occurred outside the Bear’s Den, where long lines—including one she said stretched up the stairs to the Office of Residential Life during Sunday’s lunchtime—made it difficult for students to remain distanced from one another. Other than that, though, she said that most people she had encountered were distanced and wearing masks.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

A Residential Life greeter who welcomed arriving families to campus directs a team of movers.

“I think the pandemic is definitely going to change some things, but hopefully it will be a little bit better than what we saw in the spring with schools completely moving onto Zoom,” Chen said. “I’m just glad we’re not at ‘Zoom University.’”

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