On this day two years ago, President Biddy Martin announced that students would not return to campus after spring break and that the college would be transitioning to remote learning. As this anniversary marking the beginning of Amherst’s Covid era comes around, the Editorial Board hopes to reflect upon the pandemic and how it has affected our community.
Half of Amherst’s students, first-years and sophomores who began college during the pandemic, have no idea what life on campus was like pre-Covid. Many members of the Editorial Board barely know the pre-pandemic version of The Student, having only been writers or brand-new editors in the days before being kicked off campus. In two years time, almost none of the student body will have experienced Amherst pre-Covid. Our student body is very quickly losing any connection to life at Amherst before the pandemic.
For those who were here, the pre-pandemic days are a time of nostalgia, a time where the Amherst community felt much larger than the actual student body. Five College and high school students were a common sight around campus, the faculty and student body felt more connected — especially since faculty and their families would often eat at Valentine Dining Hall — and there was generally more intimacy between the town and the college.
However, even as we acknowledge and mourn all the losses that the pandemic has caused the community, we also celebrate the unexpected ways the Amherst student body has come together during these times. New ways to communicate and stay connected emerged, such as the campus-wide GroupMe AmherstBussin. While the chat has admittedly been a mixed bag, it is a novel source of incredibly fast news dissemination with a massive audience, both by direct reading and word-of-mouth. This level of connection creates a dynamic that simply didn’t exist before the pandemic.
The pandemic has facilitated greater communication and connection not only among students, but between the student body and the administration as well. During the months following the beginning of the pandemic, the administration began seeing more clearly how their policies affected students and the need to actively respond to student concerns. This has created a culture where students feel more capable of holding the administration accountable, the administration has made open communication with students a greater priority, and both students and administration are more active in the other’s experience at the college.
These changes are more than temporary measures taken to alleviate a momentary crisis. As we move into the third year of the pandemic, it is becoming more and more clear that the “normal” we reminisce about might never exist again, simply because our sense of normalcy has shifted completely. Moving forward, we must keep the Covid era in mind even as we put the worst of it firmly behind us. Here, we have an opportunity to revive campus while carrying over the lessons that we have learned. Administrative transparency, online access to campus resources, and a kind of class connection reachable even when no one is on campus are just some of the things that we should never lose.
With those things, we can re-emerge as a stronger campus even while we seek to reinstate the elements of the “old normal” that should return: we must become more active in the town to support the place we live in and avoid retreating into the tightly-bound enclave of campus. We must have even greater outreach to Five College students as well as prospective students across the world, and open up the metaphorical doors of the college for good. While we have learned much from the pandemic, we must not isolate ourselves in our little bubble. We must seek a new normal, forming communities that are more interconnected. The college community should use the pandemic to create something like the old normal, but even better.
Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 15; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 0).