Chandler Bryant sits quietly at a picnic table near the Pi Kappa Phi Bell Tower. She’s working on assignments for her online class, the Principles of Nutrition, when she’s interrupted by a surprising, but welcome, sight: Clyde the Cougar and College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu.
A first-year student from Texas, Bryant just wrapped up her first-ever in-person class at the College.
“It was Classics, and that went really well, and I was super excited about it,” says the art history major of her first in-person class, noting that she had never done online classes before and had been looking forward to getting back to learning in a classroom setting. Students began the semester with classes totally online. “I’m just so much better in person. Something else I noticed about everything being online, not just school stuff, is that it takes away so many social opportunities – even waiting in line for your food. I feel like that’s such a big part of college for me, meeting people – especially since I don’t know anyone.”
And after much preparation and planning, students like Bryant returned to classrooms at the College of Charleston on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, nearly six months after the institution moved to remote instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. About 90 percent of the College’s students have opted to come to campus in some capacity this fall. Approximately 35 percent of the university’s classes will remain entirely online for the semester, while about 65 percent will be provided in an in-person/online hybrid format to accommodate reduced classroom capacities for social distancing.
Hsu spent the morning walking around campus and greeting students, occasionally handing out free maroon face coverings to anyone needing a spare. The College requires everyone to wear a face covering while on campus.
“Welcome to campus,” he says to a group of freshman students as they walk along College Way. “It’s good to have you back!”
The safety and health of the campus community has been among the College’s main focuses as it has mapped out policies and protocols to allow for in-person learning.
“We have learned a lot of lessons from our peer institutions, and we have the precautions in place, so we think we will be able to keep our students safe here for the entire semester,” says Hsu.
But the College is prepared for all scenarios and has developed contingency plans, should the institution need to shift back to a completely virtual learning environment due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“We can return to online education at a moment’s notice,” says Hsu. “Our faculty have worked all summer to design their classes with flexibility in mind, so they will be able to switch at a moment’s notice.”
And while safety is definitely on the minds of students as they traverse the campus’ iconic herringbone brick walkways, they’re hopeful that the College can maintain in-person learning for the semester.
Freshmen Colette O’Neil, Gracie Sticht and Emily Tetor say learning online and attending Zoom classes has been challenging, particularly as first-year college students.
“I do better with in-person instruction,” says Tetor, whose mother is an alumna of the College. “I’m able to ask questions and be in the same room as the professors – that’s why I wanted to be on campus.”
“It’s easier to raise your hand and ask a question in class than it is being terrified to interrupt a Zoom meeting,” agrees O’Neil.
For Sticht, starting her College experience in the middle of a pandemic with many classes relying on online instruction is less than ideal, but she is happy to be able to take in the city vibe of downtown Charleston and get some sense of life on the CofC campus.
“I love coming downtown,” says Sticht, who is commuting from her home in Goose Creek, South Carolina. “That’s part of why I wanted to come to this school: because I wanted to go downtown and walk around.”
At the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library, Joe Brennan and Hai Nguyan say they feel a sense of anxiety and anticipation about returning to campus, but that they do feel safe being among their CofC classmates.
Nguyan, who is a junior majoring in computer science, just transferred from the University of South Carolina and says it’s a “completely different world” than when he was last on a college campus. The fact that he has to think about how close to others he is when walking to and from class and remember that shaking hands is no longer the norm makes Nguyan lean a little more in favor of online classes.
Life at CofC is definitely a little different – though Brennan, an orientation intern, got a sense of how things would be when he was on campus hosting virtual orientation sessions for incoming students over the summer.
“I knew this whole summer how this was going to work,” he says, adding that on Monday he felt reassured as he saw wipes, hand-sanitization stations and signs reminding students to wear a face covering and practice social distancing.
R.J. Tavani, a freshman majoring in public health, moved into McAlister Hall on Friday, Sept. 11, and already he has made an effort to meet people living on his hall and even had lunch with a new friend. He’ll have his first in-person class on Tuesday.
“I didn’t want to take classes from home because I feel like, if I did, I wouldn’t have as much motivation and drive to do as well,” he says. “I feel like by being here, there’ s more motivation to do well, and I honestly wanted the experience.”
So far, Tavani says “everyone is doing pretty well” at following the rules of social distancing and face coverings. He’s hopeful he and his fellow Cougars will be able to make it work.
“I definitely want to stay on campus for the rest of the semester and have a lot of fun experiences,” he says.