In March of 2020, the Georgetown class of 2023 were first-year students in residence on the Hilltop campus, following a relatively “normal” senior year of high school. Their first year of college quickly shifted to remote learning after 6.5 months. They will arrive still relatively new to the Hilltop.
The class of 2024 experienced their first year at Georgetown (Academic 2020-21) away from the Hilltop campus, commonly after a disrupted high school senior year of missed proms and traditional graduation ceremonies. (Half of the class came to the Summer Hilltop Immersion Program in June-July, essentially experiencing residential college life for one month.). They will arrive this week largely new to the Hilltop.
The class of 2025 arrives this week completely new to the Hilltop, many after a senior year of high school with remote instruction, few high school proms, few traditional high school graduations.
Many of our Masters’ program students pursue one-year or 18-month programs. Some of them began and completed their programs in an online medium, never coming to campus. Others will arrive in fall, 2020, for the completion of their programs, new to campus. PhD students largely pursued their individual progress in more isolation than usual.
Universities are accustomed to annual renewal of the community with new members. Quite routinely one-quarter of the undergraduates will be new to campus. Quite regularly more than half of the Masters’ student enter the university for the first time in any given fall. About 15-20% of the PhD students are new to campus. So, the big difference is many more undergraduates new to campus in fall, 2021.
New members need a welcoming that’s somewhat different from those who have a year “under their belt.” They don’t know how to navigate campus, despite some improved signage on campus. They don’t know where rooms are located within buildings (my favorite is ICC, with its limits on access from East to West). They don’t know where Old North and New North begin and end. They don’t know all the cut-throughs on campus (my favorite is the 47 second advantage a walker from Reservoir to Healey gets by cutting through Henle Village). They don’t know hours of operations of various offices, from GoCard to room keys to mailrooms, etc. They need to learn the norms and unwritten rules of behavior in their part of the Georgetown culture.
At the same time, most Georgetown faculty and staff members haven’t been on campus very often since March, 2020. Some of us may also be a little rusty with in-person work behaviors. We need to renew relationships. We’ve all achieved minimal competence on Zoom. But most of us have concluded that Zoom’s efficiency for “business” communication is not present in matters of social cohesion.
Coming back together in an office, masked, is both wonderful and awful. On one hand, in-person interaction seems more open to non-business topics, which are central to renewing relationships. We’ve missed being with one another. Maybe a deliberate attempt to rebuild social bonds would help us all. We might adapt to this new in-person masked environment better if we take some time to commiserate with our colleagues, especially those who have different life circumstances than we do.
On the other hand, we all feel some anxiety at renewing relationships, despite the fact that we’re all masked, on a vaccinated campus. Things have changed and people have been affected in ways they sometimes don’t perceive in themselves. Effective teams require mutual trust; trust requires empathy and shared information. We should make time to build trust.
In any case, while faculty and staff are renewing their own bonds, it may be fun to help our larger-than-normal group of new students to find their way around this place we call Georgetown. It might even remind us of why we’ve chosen this community for our work.