First-year students accepting of different Grinnell campus experience

Feb. 18, 2021 — It’s easy to see why Conor Martin ’24 was skeptical.

The Berkeley, California, native thought he was going to attend Grinnell College in person before surging summer COVID-19 numbers scuttled the College’s plan to have first-years on campus in the fall.

So when the news arrived in November that College leaders felt comfortable from a health and safety standpoint to invite first-year students to live in residence halls for spring term 1, Martin remained somewhat in disbelief.

“I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I did that last summer and it didn’t turn out well,” he says. “But this time there was this sense of building excitement as it got closer; it seemed more and more real. The thing that I liked the most is by the time I actually arrived I already had made a few friends and they are living with me in Norris Hall.”

With the addition of first-years, there are about 600 students living in Grinnell – both on and off campus – during spring term 1, which began Feb. 1 and continues through March 24. First-year students also had the option of continuing with remote learning. Either way, the primary mode of instruction is online throughout the spring with a few instances of limited in-person learning experiences. Invites have been extended to second- and fourth-year students to live in the residence halls for the second spring term.

Aiyana Rockwell ’24
    Aiyana Rockwell ’24

After being cooped up in her Denver area home for the previous 10 months, Aiyana Rockwell ’24 was ready to move to Grinnell even if the circumstances were far from customary.

“I know typically first-years get homesick, but I think most of us aren’t experiencing that feeling because we were at home for so long,” she says. “I was ready to get out and real excited to get to know people.”

Rockwell was eager to bond with her fellow first-year basketball teammates. The four players had to have two negative COVID-19 tests before they started practicing. Even then, each player was practicing individually on their own corner of the court. They are now able to practice together while wearing masks and goggles.

“It’s pretty quiet, but it’s definitely nice to be able to at least get coaching and practice with who I’ll play with the next three years,” Rockwell says.

Rockwell and her teammates are part of a scurry living in Clark Hall. A scurry is each student’s designated dorm-based social group. First-year students had a chance to indicate on a form what classmates they wanted in their scurry. Masks and face shields are still required within the scurry. While students can enter each other’s rooms, most don’t because it’s difficult to social distance. Thus, getting together in lounges or other common areas is more prevalent.

Martin has enjoyed meeting more of his classmates. Even with distancing and PPE, it’s easier to socialize with people on campus than through a virtual course from back home.

“The students in my residence hall are nice people,” he says. “We bind the time engaging in safe social activities, and we go to the dining hall together to pick up our meals.”

Students can reserve study spaces in the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC), Noyce Science Center, and Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. They also make reservations to work out at campus fitness facilities or reserve social spaces in the Harris Center.

The College also provides a wide variety of programing and activities. This week alone has the following offerings: Mural painting, a spoken word poet, Shabbat table, a Men of Color: Empowered and Engaged (MCEE) meeting, a Womxn of Color group meeting, a puppy play date, a snow sculpture building contest, and a self-care workshop with Student Health & Wellness.

Martin and Rockwell both visited campus as prospective students in 2019 so they have some idea of what a more traditional campus experience is like.

“I was looking in general for a liberal arts college in an isolated, small town,” Martin says. “I grew up in a city and wanted something different. Right now, I’m taking history and economics courses, and they are great. The open curriculum allows me to figure out what I want to do for my four years here. I’m not restricted at all.”

Conor Martin ’24 took a break from moving into Norris Hall on Jan. 24 to engage in a snowball fight with his parents, David Martin and Wendy Magis.
Conor Martin ’24, left, took a break from moving into Norris Hall on Jan. 24 to engage in a snowball fight with his parents, David Martin and Wendy Magis.

Martin had only seen snow one other time prior to his Grinnell arrive in late January. Before his parents departed, the three engaged in a friendly snowball fight.

“My dad has Midwest roots and throws a really good snowball,” Martin says while laughing. “It was a fun way to kick things off. While my parents liked having me around in the fall, they knew I was disappointed. It’s a weird situation and something that everyone has had to adapt to. They are happy I’m here now.”

Rockwell is taking General Physics and Intro to Studio Art from her basement room in Clark. Life in the residence hall can be isolating at times (especially with the frigid weather), but she’s determined to make the best of it.

“I think for the most part everyone is trying to move on together,” Rockwell says. “I kind of forget about all this stuff that I missed and it’s just really exciting to be focusing on school and basketball and thinking about what it’s going to be like next year. For so long there was no light at the end of tunnel. Just being here trumps any of the difficulties.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Grinnell College has created a campus activity level system to communicate what core activities look like on campus depending on community health conditions. The current activity level is yellow.

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