Cardinals Are Back After a Year and a Half-Long Retreat at Home

Photo By | Asar John

By Asar John

After almost 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, York College like many other CUNY campuses returned to a mostly in-person/hybrid course format on Wed., Aug 26, 2021, with students, staff, and faculty ready to jump into the new semester despite the new changes brought with the deadly virus. 

“We are so excited for you to be back on campus and for you to be learning whether you are online, hybrid, and/or in-person for all your classes,” said York College President Brenecea J. Eanes in her “Welcome Back” message for Fall 2021. “Please, give all you can to be a part of this community– we know you give what you get. Invest in yourselves, invest in York College, and please, be with us all along the way this year.”  

To access the new escalators and the refurbished Faculty Dining Room, students are required to show proof of vaccination against coronavirus (or a negative COVID test for a limited time) upon entering the campus. But despite the extra steps, many students said they were eager to be back in the building. 

“Being in person, it feels kind of strange since there was a whole year online so I’m still trying to get back to how things normally were with a little bit of restriction here and there,” said junior, Madelyn Valenzuela, a Psychology major. “But it feels kind of refreshing and exciting, like a new adventure, a new chapter in life after everything that’s been going on.” 

Students were met in the Atrium by administrative staff alongside tables draped in red cloth directing them to where they needed to go, providing snacks, water and York College apparel such as wristbands and phone cardholders. Students like Deanna Mungin volunted at the tables to give other students a warm welcome back to campus. 

“It’s actually very weird to be back on campus,” said Mungin, a junior majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies. “I feel like a lot of students including myself are trying to get re-acclimated with our surroundings and the classrooms, but it’ll be better once we get a flow of the school year.” 

Although the first day back was intended to begin with an inviting feel as many return or are arriving for the first time, some students felt that entering the campus was a bit chaotic. 

“The line at the door for check-in was a bit disorganized,” said sophomore, Micaela Reyes, a Pharmaceutical Science major. “It’s like there were people in the line, there were people not in the line; they were just coming around out of the line and they [Public Safety] were saying they were going to take my temperature but they didn’t.” 

Reyes said she was lost once she fully entered the building from the 160th Street entrance. Eventually, Reyes made her way to her first class but said the college could do a better job of making sure students can get to their destinations. 

“I think they could build more signage or even the person who checks you in at the door, ask you what room you’re going to,” said Reyes. 

For other York students, concerns on campus lie with the rise of the Delta variant. 

“I personally feel that people who are vaccinated should still get tested because you don’t know how much of a variant this is,” said senior Kalis Jones, a Psychology major. “With Delta there’s probably going to be Gamma and Iota and we don’t want to make it to Omega because then we’d probably be out of here.” 

Art history major and staff member at the Mens’ Center, Georgios Messoloras, described York as a “home away from home” when discussing being absent from the campus for so long. 

“There was about a six or seven-month gap before I came back to the Mens’ Center to start working again but even though I was here for that, I missed being here for the classes,” said Messoloras, who is entering this semester as a senior. “That’s part of education, it’s the bread and butter of college; being able to be there in person. 

Professors also gave their take on returning, as some find working and teaching from home far less effective than being in a dedicated learning or office space.

“The entire time I was teaching, doing research, working from my apartment in Queens and it’s a really small space so it’s really hard to make a division between your home life and your work life,” said York English professor, Matthew Garley. “Teaching in person is completely different from teaching online because a lot of students don’t turn on their cameras which I understand why, I mean, I don’t like to turn on my camera when I’m attending a meeting from home because I’m at home. Teaching in person you just have a different connection to your students, so I’m looking forward to getting back to that.” 

Just like some students, Garley also has concerns about the emergence of the Delta variant. 

“I am still concerned about the Delta variant; about COVID-19 still being a big issue and I’ve had some second thoughts about whether teaching in-person is the right thing to do,” said Garley. “But, at the end of the day, I think yes, if the public health crisis becomes so large again we’re going to go back online anyway. So I’d rather try to teach in-person and have to go back online if we have to, than start off the semester online again and feel a lot less connected to my students and the campus life of York College which I honestly really miss.”

Although there are concerns about safety when it comes to being on campus, some professors have concerns in other areas that are not directly related to the COVID virus. 

“The problem is when you are an adjunct teacher, you have to work at different campuses at different times and different campuses didn’t make the same decision,” said World Language Professor Wilson Decembre, who serves as an adjunct at York, CUNY Hunter and Pace University in Lower Manhattan. “Sometimes you have a campus that says this particular class has to be done online and another campus will say you have to come later the same day.” 

Decembre says it is quite a challenge to change between the different modes of learning and between different schools. Although he has been bouncing around to different campuses since he became an adjunct in 2005, Decembre says the challenges lie within transitioning from Zoom at home to one of three schools he instructs at. 

“For example, you work on Zoom and you have to go to another class that is in Manhattan two hours after, using transportation,” said Decembre. “I do prefer in-person learning when every campus is doing the same thing.”

Essential workers who were at York throughout the 18 months that students and professors were absent also shared their excitement of having a more lively campus. 

“It’s great having everybody back; it’s a sign of getting back to normal,” said Eddie Rios, an Office Assistant in the Receiving Department at York. “We’re expecting to be busier as more students and more staff means more products coming into the college. But we’re used to it because that’s how it was prior to the pandemic.” 

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