The Michigan Difference: The Freshmen Experience During COVID

I vividly remember the day I received my acceptance letter from the University of Michigan. Caught in a state of confusion and elation, I simultaneously felt lucky and proud. After checking multiple times to make sure the University did in fact accept me, I practically flew around the house towards every single member of my family in the most obnoxious way possible. From the moment I opened that letter, I think I knew that I would be going to Michigan. Yet, I didn’t put down my deposit until a month later. The reason? After the initial rush of excitement, I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the school beyond its reputation. I had never visited the campus, never seen a Wolverines' football game, and if I’m being honest, I had never even been in the Midwest. That’s why in late August, as I walked onto campus, I didn’t feel like I was coming home, I felt like I was walking into the unknown, and I was terrified.  

Perhaps it was naïve of me to think that, even with the current global pandemic, the University would be prepared to offer freshmen the same experience as they had in years past while still ensuring that we were safe. I think my optimism with regard to a normal transition to college was simply the product of an abundance of hope. My belief that the University would take every precaution to keep us safe, on the other hand, was what I now realize formed out of an abundance of naïvte. There was no comprehensive plan to keep us safe from the virus, only a monetarily-driven desire to prolong the semester while maintaining that impeccable reputation that drew me to the school in the first place.  

From the moment I moved in, Michigan's COVID response proved to be underwhelming and superficial at best. To start, nearly every student I know broke the one-family member rule as they unpacked their belongings, and not a single person was around to ensure compliance. The laughable measures continued at dinner when students could be seen mere feet away from one another as they waited in the endless line outside the dining hall only to be scolded for breaking the six-foot minimum once actually inside the dining hall (which is no fault of the dining hall staff but rather poor planning on behalf of the University). 

Now, as I sit here and write this piece from my dorm room in South Quad, where there have been three known cases on my floor and more than forty cases in my building, I have to wonder if the university knew all along how quickly the situation would escalate, and how unprepared they were to combat it. When the GEO and RA strikes happened, I thought the University might take some sort of accountability and own up to the overwhelming number of shortcomings that worry students and staff alike. Yet, the administration's response alienated their employees and manipulated the student body in a show of false sympathy meant to place blame on those who actually cared about our welfare enough to take a stand. The strikes were inconvenient, yes, but they reflected concerns that my friends and I discuss daily. We trusted Michigan to keep us safe, but now we wonder what the administration cares about more: our money or our health.

I write all this knowing full well that I chose to come to school this year. I chose to live in a dorm and I knew the risks involved. What I didn’t know was how little effort the administration would put into keeping us safe compared to how great of an effort they would make to convince us that we are safe.  I want to be proud that I attend the University of Michigan, and for so many reasons I truly am. The professors here are truly amazing, the dining hall staff are some of the kindest people I have ever met, the students here are ambitious and passionate, the campus is gorgeous, Ann Arbor is vibrant in both nature and city... I could go on. I want to love this school wholeheartedly, yet, the administration has left much to be desired.