Like everything in 2020, freshman move-in at Gonzaga University is hardly typical.
Despite bucking some traditions, the start of a new school year does offer relief to incoming students and their families.
To many of the eager (and masked) first-year students unpacking their belongings on Wednesday, starting the fall semester on campus and taking at least some classes in person is unquestionably preferable to the alternative: staying at home and enrolling in class online.
Incoming freshman Joseph Nuno said he had “zero” hesitation about living on campus and remained excited for the semester, despite the numerous safety restrictions and guidelines put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t have any prior experience to judge it off of, so everything would have been new to me regardless, masks or no masks,” said Nuno, who is from Sacramento. “I originally thought we’d be completely online a few months ago, so it exceeded expectations and I’m glad we could do it safely.”
For Davonna and Del Johnson of Seattle, the first year of son Jalen’s college experience will be tough and require discipline, but it still beats being at home. They participated in webinars offered by Gonzaga and were satisfied with the college’s plans, including COVID-19 testing for students and options for quarantine and self-isolation.
“If we can make it through the fall, it’s a win,” Del Johnson said.
Some aspects of move-in day seemed like they could have taken place in any other year.
Students and parents wore masks as they posed for pictures beside the 5-foot-tall bronze bulldog sculpture outside the McCarthey Athletic Center. Families arriving on campus scurried to check in, while others hugged their incoming freshmen goodbye and parted ways.
To offer students flexibility, Gonzaga waived the requirement that first- and second-year students live on campus. About 15% of Gonzaga’s undergraduates will take classes entirely remotely, an option also given by the university ahead of the semester. The rest will arrive on campus in staggered groups over the coming days, in a move-in process designed to avoid crowding.
On Wednesday, students and families were assigned times to arrive in groups of about 200, in three-hour blocks. Absent this year are the crews of student helpers who aid classmates and carry belongings into dorms, but facial coverings were omnipresent.
“It felt very organized and uncluttered,” said Mary Joan Hahn, a university spokeswoman.
New students will move in over the course of three days, followed by three days of moving in by returning students. Prior to their arrival, all students were asked to quarantine at home for seven days.
Gonzaga’s reopening comes as colleges across the country wrestle with how to provide students a safe education during the coronavirus pandemic, and whether to offer in-person classes at all.
The university has consulted the Spokane Regional Health District on its reopening plan. While Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz told The Spokesman-Review earlier this month that he expects some students will be infected with the coronavirus and has expressed concerns, “we also believe that they’re taking this responsibly and really trying to impart leadership and responsibility on the students.”
Eastern Washington University and Washington State University will begin the fall entirely online, but Gonzaga and Whitworth University are offering in-person instruction.
Nuno, the freshman from Sacramento, said he needs the structure provided by a classroom.
“I find it hard to be self-motivating during remote stuff,” he said. “When I found out I had in-person classes, at least a few of them, I was excited.”
Jason Palumbis, parent of an incoming freshman, echoed that sentiment.
“Just to have interpersonal relations with people here, to form relationships, versus online, we feel it’s absolutely worth it,” Palumbis said. “Our biggest concern is that everything will be online – we want our kid to actually be able to participate in classes with other students.”
Gonzaga students read the reports from other colleges like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which had to move classes entirely online after outbreaks of coronavirus were detected just days after it welcomed students back to campus. Freshmen are aware there’s a possibility of outbreaks at Gonzaga but feel the school has worked to prevent them.
“There’s always that fear, but they’re making it pretty clear that we have a set way we’re going to do things, and we plan to stick to that,” Kaitlyn McCurdy said.
Hahn noted that incoming freshmen had their senior year and high school graduations upended by the coronavirus, so they pay attention to the college’s guidance.
“They understand the significance of things not being normal, and they’re cognizant of the health risks that everybody is facing,” Hahn said. “It’s a pretty easy message: Mask up, distance, wash your hands.”