College reopens as Gators flock to Week of Welcome

High vaccination rates chase away masks, distancing

Students at the ‘All -Campus Celebration and Pep Rally, the last event of Week of Welcome on August 23. Classes began, all in-person, the following day.

Following last week’s successful move-in, Student Life hosted a wide variety of on-campus events as a part of the “Week of Welcome.” Students flocked to the semester’s first Late Night Breakfast on Brooks Walk, an event traditionally held on Study Day, where the line for donuts stretched from the Samuel Lord Gate to the Brooks Circle. On Friday, a vendor on the Gator Quad was giving out custom

street signs, and had to stop taking orders early due to the high demand. So many Baldwin students attended the “Go for Gold” Capture the Flag event on Sunday night that every other hall represented had to join together to equal the Baldwin team.

Dr. Trae Yeckley, associate dean of students for community standards and wellness, noted this marked uptick in student participation since last year.

“We’re seeing a lot of students that (last year) we kind of lost track of,” Yeckley said. “Sometimes our students, especially first-years coming in, have a hard time finding friends. We’ve done so much programming at the start of this semester to make sure that these students connect, that they know what it means to be a Gator.”

Yeckley hopes that Allegheny’s distinctive student experience will continue once classes begin and students get more busy.

“We are really hoping to create this sense of community with Allegheny, especially coming out of COVID and all the restrictions last year,” Yeckley said. “We really want students to be out of their rooms, making connections, feeling a part of the campus. So yes, there will be more events, maybe not to the scale that we’ve had — five days in a row of events — but we are hoping to have quite a few events throughout the rest of the semester.”

These events will fall less on Niki Fjeldal, who joined the school in July as the First Year Class Dean. Fjeldal helped organize most of the events the first week back but is now looking forward to the academic year.“The position of the first-year class dean will start moving more to how I can support students on an individual basis and things that already exist on campus,” Fjeldal said. “Student life will take over in terms of the involvement fair and WingFest and some other events that are happening, and I think our student organizations are finally in a place so that they’re able to program and start doing things as well.”

At the same time, Dean for Student Success Ian Binnington cautioned against swamping students with events and activities they may not be particularly interested in.

“We don’t want to ‘overprogram’ and we also want to be sensitive to what students want as opposed to what we want,” Binnington said. “Week of Welcome is largely about what we want, but it’s also largely about Dean Fjeldal’s long experience in orientation and transition programming. We do need to be mindful of what students want and so that’s going to be a part of the ongoing conversation with ASG and with other student bodies.”

Most students attending Week of Welcome events were unmasked, with only a handful choosing to wear face coverings. Yeckley noted that students who mask do not seem to be ostracized by unmasked students.

“The people that I have seen masked are interacting with people who aren’t masked and no one’s been saying anything like, ‘Hey, why are you wearing your mask?’ or ‘You shouldn’t be wearing your mask,’” Yeckley said. “It seems like people are being really respectful of each other’s decisions, and I think that’s going to continue on into the classroom, across campus, into the dining halls.”

Indeed, according to Fjeldal, COVID has not been something that she’s seen come up as a topic of conversation at the events she’s attended.

“We’ve tried to do a lot of activities outside, and I think people decide to mask or not mask as their comfort level with all of that,” Fjeldal said. “I think most students have been really excited to get together and just be together.”

Kapilashrami, for his part, is not too worried about the college’s ability to handle new variants.

“The delta variant is pretty scary, obviously, but I feel like a decent amount of our population is vaxxed where it shouldn’t be a huge issue,” Kapilashrami said. “If it does become an issue, then that’s just something we’re going to have to deal with.”

Fjeldal wants to see this programming expanded and developed for following classes, based on Allegheny’s specific traditions.

“I’ve met with a lot of different upper-classmen to understand what their experiences were like, to make sure that we’re making the true best first-year experience for an Allegheny student,” said Fjeldal.

Binnington also acknowledged the work that goes into such programming, work that often required multiple 18-hour workdays.

“I want to make sure that I thank Dean Fjeldal and Dean Foxman and just so many people whose names students often don’t know but who have been here long into the evenings, in the weekends, setting up the testing environment, making sure that students can move in,” Binnington said. “We really want this to be as close to a normal semester as we can make it, recognizing that we have to pay attention to health conditions.”