By Olivia Yepez
The Drew University campus feels different than it did a year ago.
Almost normal, in fact, now that COVID-19 vaccines have been rolled out. The Madison liberal arts school required vaccinations for all students ahead of their return last month.
The paved path that connects dorms, dining halls and academic buildings was filled last week with students en route to their first in-person classes in more than a year.
Some wore masks, but more were bare-faced, exposing smiles that would have been hidden earlier in the pandemic.
“It definitely did seem mundane, obviously, back in the day, going back to class, coming from class,” said junior Michael Schrock, 20, of Wayne. “But nowadays? Couldn’t enjoy it more.”
Schrock lived on Drew’s campus for the spring 2021 but took mostly online classes. There was a hopeful glint in his eye as he spoke.
“I am just … exhilarated, you know? Just to finally be back and to finally be able to interact with people.”
That experience will cost a bit more. Drew’s tuition has increased to almost $42,000, up from about $40,500 students paid for last year’s online or restricted in-person semesters, according to CollegeTuitionCompare.com and Drew’s website.
In an apparent attempt to make it easier for students to maintain social distancing, the school also has equipped dorm rooms with mini-refrigerators, in partnership with the manufacturer.
Nevertheless, Schrock remains optimistic about the semester, despite some concerns the Delta strain and other variants of the novel coronavirus. If students follow CDC guidelines and are mindful about wearing masks, he thinks the academic year will proceed successfully.
Other students, like Aiden Holmes, 19, differ in opinion over Drew’s masking policies, yet remain hopeful about the semester to come.
A prospective psychology and neuroscience major, Holmes originally planned to join Drew’s class of 2024. But he elected to defer when the university went all-online last fall.
The Issaquah, WA, native said he’s “over it” with masking. Masks in classes make sense to him, but he doesn’t see the point of donning them in dining halls. People don’t wear masks to eat, anyway.
“For the most part, people are being safe,” Holmes said. “I think we should be fine.” He’s just happy to finally be at Drew.
“At first it didn’t feel real, because it was like coming onto campus after a whole extra year of waiting,” Holmes said.
Alyssa Sileo, a 21-year-old theater major from Gloucester County, wrestled with reservations about returning.
“Before getting here, I was admittedly very, very, very nervous, especially with Delta on the rise,” Sileo said through double masks, one blue and one black. She has been studying from home since spring 2020 and intends to mask up for a “very, very long time” to protect herself and vulnerable people around her.
She said she felt better when she arrived, even though most classmates are mask-less outside. “I feel genuinely okay, which is weird to me.”
Sileo is counting on Drew’s requirement for vaccinations of all faculty and staff to keep the community safe, and she supports continued accommodations to make schooling accessible for immunocompromised- and disabled students
She often wears a mask with a cutout covered by clear plastic, to help community members who rely on lipreading. This mask is becoming commonplace in the theater community, to maintain safety while enabling the wearer to show facial expressions, she said.
It also comes in handy during her Spanish classes, where she sometimes uses lipreading to understand her teachers and classmates. The only drawback, Sileo said, is you cannot double up with this kind of mask without defeating its purpose.
Though sad about losing a year in Madison, Sileo knows her loss is miniscule compared to what others have suffered from COVID-19. She is determined to make the most of her senior year.
“I have a deep urge not to lose any more time here.”
Morristown Green correspondent Olivia Yepez is a member of the Drew University Class of ’22.