UC Berkeley students, faculty express mixed feelings after first day of classes

photo of Sather Gate during the first two days back on campus
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
A crowd of students walk past Sather Gate. After the first day of classes, many of which were in person, students and faculty experienced feelings ranging from excitement to nervousness.

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Students and faculty returned to campus for the first day of classes Wednesday, with reactions ranging from nervousness to excitement.

With in-person teaching set as the default method of instruction this semester, plenty of classes and discussion sections are meeting in campus buildings again. According to Silvia Bunge, campus psychology professor, many of her students have been “craving” face-to-face contact.

“The students in my seminar are thrilled to be back in person,” Bunge said in an email. “I had a small mutiny on my hands yesterday when I suggested that they each attend 4 sessions remotely so that we could have a less densely packed classroom.”

Bunge noted, however, that some students are reluctant to return to in-person lectures and may need to utilize campus mental health services to adjust.

In campus senior Christian Gutierrez’s research seminar, the professor asked students to share how they felt returning to in-person instruction. While students had a variety of feelings, the most common response was anxiousness.

“Even though us seniors have been here before and we know how the university works, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Gutierrez said. “We’re all in a similar emotional state … but it made me feel a little bit better because I know I’m not the only one feeling this way.”

Joshua Hug, campus electrical engineering and computer science professor, noted that while he planned to have an in-person lecture on the first day of school, he had to switch to online instruction when his child caught a cold.

Hug added that while the last-minute change of plans would have been awkward two years ago, students adapted smoothly to his announcement.

Gutierrez said the transition back to classroom instruction has been very sudden.

“We’re all just expected to be okay with professors jumping into instruction,” Gutierrez said. “The shift is so severe, and it’s even more exaggerated because we haven’t had people on campus in forever.”

Senior transfer student Olivia Kehoe had been looking forward to their first day on campus for more than a year, but is now self-isolating after experiencing some COVID-19 symptoms, which they believe they contracted on campus.

Kehoe also expressed disappointment at campus’s decision to go forward with reopening. Kehoe said they want what is best for community health, and added that they are worried about what will happen if COVID-19 cases increase, which they believe is inevitable.

Gutierrez thinks campus should push more messaging about masking and other precautions, adding that students are part of a community and need to be socially responsible.

However, Gutierrez doesn’t blame students, particularly freshman and sophomores, for wanting to “experience college.”

“We still have to be conscious of COVID, with the variant, while still trying to have a college experience,” Gutierrez said. “It’s so important to have that social life and connectivity.”

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.