New UC Berkeley students moving into on-campus housing this fall faced more than just the average move-in day jitters, with social distancing precautions and virtual Golden Bear Orientation, or GBO, amid COVID-19 concerns.
Students moved in from Aug. 20 to 23 rather than on the usual single move-in day to stagger possible interactions and promote social distancing, according to an email from Adam Ratliff, campus spokesperson. All students will be living in single-occupancy rooms to allow for self-sequestering for seven to 10 days before the start of fall instruction and during GBO.
In anticipation of wildfire smoke, students received KN95 masks during the move-in process and resources to contact if they had any health concerns, according to Ratliff.
Ratliff said COVID-19 testing will be free and mandatory for students in residence halls before and after self-sequestering, as well as twice a week throughout the semester, regardless of insurance status.
Campus officials have implemented several measures to prevent COVID-19, including a Keep Berkeley Healthy pledge and a public health education campaign, according to Ratliff.
“Our focus is education and support, not punitive action,” Ratliff said in the email.
In hopes of fostering a sense of community, students in residence halls will be split into groups of nine to 10 based on where they are living, called Berkeley Bubbles, which mostly coincide with their GBO groups, according to Ratliff.
These GBO groups met remotely during the five-day, four-night online GBO experience in order to transition to campus life, according to Ratliff.
Fira Fatmasiefa, a GBO leader, said the virtual GBO experience was less successful than the regular in-person experience. In her orientation group, some students felt awkward or struggled with technical difficulties, while other students were enthusiastic regardless.
“It’s not the same, but they’re trying their best,” Fatmasiefa said.
Individual student schedules this fall were more flexible than during in-person GBO, allowing students to engage in the events live or watch recordings later, Ratliff added.
These virtual programs included a tour of the Minecraft simulation of campus, Blockeley University, social activities led by orientation leaders and a Zoom session with the UC Rally Committee.
Fatmasiefa said GBO was not ideal for international students, with students either not participating at all, waking up early or staying up late to attend events.
According to campus freshman Phyllis Lam, one of the primary limitations of holding GBO on Zoom was that it made forming friendships or holding comfortable conversations difficult.
She added, however, that in some ways, she believes GBO prepared her for life as a UC Berkeley student because she now knows about the mental health, financial and academic resources she has access to.
“Once school starts I might start to experience some of the things talked about during GBO and realize that being at home doesn’t mean that I won’t still have the same experiences,” Lam said in an email.