Jonathan L. Wharton

We are now a couple of weeks into this semester and it’s hard to tell whether Southern Connecticut State University’s campus has fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. There are subtle reminders that we’re not out of the woods quite yet. But while masking may be optional and COVID-19 vaccinations are no longer required, the virus has not gone away.

For my first evening class, I wasn’t too surprised that a few students wore face masks in our seminar room. By the second class, however, I was more struck that none of my students sported masks. Many seemed to be at ease as I kept the windows open and suggested that we conduct our class outdoors in the near future.

For me, it seemed natural to teach in-person again and to see students buzzing around campus. There is a noticeable difference from the previous academic year to this fall semester. There are more students, more events, and more interest in connecting again.

Probably the most noticeable shift has been the number of in-person campus activities, especially in the university’s events complex. At SCSU’s Adanti Student Center, there’s a sizable ballroom and it’s been teaming with people since the semester began. The Multicultural and International Welcome Reception returned to being in-person and it was welcoming to see so many attend the event. What really amazed me was that a significant number of faculty were in attendance.

Similarly, last week was the first time in a couple of years that the New Faculty Showcase breakfast took place and it was in the student center ballroom as well. So many faculty and administrators attended the event that I could barely find a seat. Some of my colleagues were just as surprised to see such a high turnout, especially for a Friday morning.

It was also apparent at the breakfast that everyone is anxious to connect in-person again. New faculty discussed their interests and research publicly for two minutes. Their sense of humor was infectious and put everyone at ease. One faculty member admitted that after being at SCSU for a one-year appointment that she stayed on for a tenure track position because she appreciated Connecticut. The claps and “oh’s” in the ballroom were striking and I savored her passion for Connecticut, which is rarely expressed publicly by many Nutmeggers.

Maybe the most memorable moment for fully returning to campus was the shared “welcome back” party for my political science department and history department. After experiencing empty hallways for a few years, Engleman Hall was once again filled and our particular “c-wing” had majors and minors connect with faculty. There were donuts, pizzas, and sodas being shared.

So there’s no doubt that SCSU has come alive again as an actual university environment. To connect with faculty, administrators, and students has certainly been overdue and cherished by many. However, even though there appears to be a return to normalcy on campus, I have to add that there are faculty and administrators who have been infected with COVID-19 in the last few weeks. 

For my own peace of mind, getting boosters and wearing masks when necessary are at least preventive approaches as the university comes together again. At SCSU’s new student convocation in Lyman Center, for example, I wore a mask since there were hundreds of people in attendance during the indoor celebrations (there was also a welcoming line for incoming freshmen at the university’s gates afterward).

Last week, I also had another COVID-19 booster that was updated for the omicron variant through SCSU’s Friday clinic. So, while we’re all going to be back indoors full time with the weather changing, it’s still best to be prepared for this semester.

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.