Contemplating a Fall Quarter Like No Other

Photo: Andrew Brodhead

Any other year, Stanford freshmen face the traditional startling welcome: half a dozen gaudily dressed strangers shouting their names as they check into their dorms. A rush of bonding experiences, from Band Run to scavenger hunt, ensues.

Of course, that’s all on hold, but still the university had hoped to bring freshmen, sophomores and new transfer students to campus this fall for a modified experience. On August 13, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced that would no longer be possible, based on the state of California’s guidance for higher education and the “deep challenges associated with trying to provide anything close to a ‘normal’ on-campus undergraduate experience given the current state of the pandemic.” He said the guidance recommends that most indoor classes be canceled and prevents “communal dining, most gatherings and social events, the use of indoor common spaces such as lounges, [and] visitors to campus.” Two days prior, the Pac-12 had suspended fall sports competition.

“It goes without saying that I was disappointed not to be on campus,” says freshman Colby Clark, a ballet dancer from New York City. “But I don’t think it changed too much what I was hoping for, which is to start on my Stanford path.” He sees an opportunity in remote learning: “I might go take a road trip to see my mom’s cousin in Wyoming and meet a new community there.”

‘I don’t think it changed too much what I was hoping for, which is to start on my Stanford path.’

Isabella Terrazas, ’23, who dove into campus life as an ASSU frosh council representative last year, says she’s contemplating a leave of absence. “Living with the students whom I was in classes with allowed us to learn and grow together, so I am a bit unsure how learning online will affect my education,” she says. But she believes Stanford “made a good decision” given the COVID-19 outbreaks at other universities.

Roughly 800 undergraduates with special circumstances are still approved to live on campus this fall. Freshman Melanie Rodríguez, who’s from rural Puerto Rico, requested campus housing after considering what it would be like to take college courses remotely with unstable internet access. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, her family went without power for six months, and outages remain common. 

Rodríguez says she’s concerned about COVID-19, wildfires, earthquakes and how she’ll make friends once she gets here. But she’s already connecting with classmates online through the Stanford Summer Engineering Academy.

 “So many things are uncertain and unprecedented,” Rodríguez says. “I want to be optimistic. Things are going to be different, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be completely bad.”


Jill Patton, ’03, MA ’04, is the senior editor of Stanford.