Off to Good Start: First Class Day Sees Return to Normal

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7:25 a.m.: The sun illuminates the BJU campus and already begins to heat sidewalks as students stream from the Dixon-McKenzie Dining Common with carry-out containers and coffee cups.

7:50 a.m.: Kathryn Gamet, department head in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, flicks the light switch to bring Fine Arts 206 online, and minutes later, the room comes to life with students ready to tackle Fundamentals of Broadcasting.

For first-year students, “Am I in the right place?” was a common question across campus on the first day of classes in BJU’s 95th academic year. For upperclassmen, who haven’t had a fully normal college experience because of the effects of the COVID-10 pandemic, attending class without wearing a mask was a different dynamic.

Intuitively, Gamet knows “they want to be here.”

“I see a good energy, and just watching them walk around they are excited to be back with friends, seeing their friends,” she said. “It’s a camaraderie, people with like-mindedness, hopefully, who can encourage you. (The initial class) there was a good vibe. I left the first day last year feeling heavy, like how am I going to get to know my students. I don’t feel that now because I can see their faces, I can see their interactions. It was a much better first morning.”

Junior graphic design major Haleigh Henegan agreed that spirits were high in her first class of the semester — Photography II — while both students and instructors are cognizant of the continued threat of the virus.

Photo by Derek Eckenroth

“Not having to wear a mask is beneficial to feel like you’re back to normal,” she said. “The teacher emphasized that you’re able to wear a mask and is concerned that all the equipment is wiped down. The four W’s — wash hands, watch distance, wipe surfaces and wear a mask — were brought up in class as a reminder of our responsibility to guard our health.”

While vaccinations and universal masking aren’t required, BJU remains committed to helping the University community stay healthy. Directives of the South Carolina governor’s office and state legislature will be followed, and free COVID-19 testing and quarantine spaces are available on campus.

Junior computer science major Austin Pennington said he “sensed that the lack of masks provided a sense of comfort and perhaps freedom for my classmates” in his morning Introduction to Database Management Systems class. While the atmosphere was positive, Pennington said he “sensed some classmates still feel concerned without people wearing masks.”

“The lingering threat of COVID last semester and the policies in place to prevent the spread of it hindered on- and off-campus activities,” he said. “Regardless of one’s opinion on whether they should be vaccinated or wear masks, I think everyone is eager for things on and off campus to return to how it was prior to 2020.”

Added senior English major Kenzie McGregor: “The vibe of campus contains more excitement and energy than I remember from previous semesters. People seem genuinely happy to see each other and to hang out with each other. It’s a feeling of a fresh start. And it’s great to see everyone’s smiles again.”