As you might have heard, part of Oberlin's response to covid was to divide the 2020-2021 school year up into three semesters so that the entire student body wouldn't be on campus at any one time, which is why I am in school right now— like, taking classes and everything. My school year consists of a fall semester and a summer semester, so people keep asking me if I'm annoyed that I don't have a summer break, but I've come to embrace it at this point. This year, my spring was my summer and my summer is my spring.
I was home during the spring semester. Aside from babysitting and spending a ridiculous amount of hours listening to podcasts while knitting, I did an internship with an organization called More Gardens that maintains a network of community gardens in New York. They've played a crucial role in the movement to defend gardens, especially those run by and for low-income BIPOC, against gentrification for over twenty years. In some ways, the internship felt like a hands-on warm welcome into the environmental justice and food sovereignty movements that I literally revere in my free time. I would say my spring semester came close enough to a summer break: I had time off from academics, transformative experiences, and time to think and feel and free my mind up again.
Still, the spring definitely didn't have the same feel to it as a regular summer. The weather wasn't up to par, there were still concerns about covid, and for most of it I was doing eight hours of manual labor per day. To be fair, summer semester hasn't exactly felt like a regular spring semester either. I've heard a lot of jokes about Oberlin feeling like we're all at one big summer camp together, which quickly turns into "This camp isn't fun anymore" whenever someone's struggling emotionally or academically. I also hear a lot of "Can we go to the beach on Saturday?" which usually doesn't happen. What definitely does happen is lot of different kinds of large social gatherings— hangouts, kickbacks, shared meals, parties, study groups… As we're all coming out of being unvaccinated in a covid-ridden world for over a year, the social energy feels amplified and charged.
There also seems to be something inherently lazier about summer. Maybe it's the associations we've had with it throughout our lifetimes or maybe it's the heat, but there's clearly a vibe going around that's like, "I don't need to be a good student right now, I just need to be a student," which translates into, "I don't need to do this assignment well, I just need to do it." I have surely been infected by this haze.
Adding on to the academic haze is the fact that I have less time commitments right now than I've ever had while being on campus, and I know I'm not alone in that. Less clubs and organizations are up and running than usual, and a lot of the ones that are active are slowing down a bit. All I'm really obligated to this semester is my classes and an ExCo (a class, but taught by students for less credit) with a side of leadership tasks for Obies for Undocumented Inclusion. What I'm learning from this is that not overcommitting is an excellent choice. Personally, I need time to cry! It's also really nice to have time to hang out, journal, take care of your friends, cook, and do whatever else you need to do.
Another big thing that's different than usual is the size of the campus population. Only second and third years are on campus right now (with the exception of around 30 first-years), so it feels like everyone here I either know, have met, or know someone who knows them. The community also feels smaller because everyone is living on North campus while South campus (and sort of everywhere else) undergoes a lot of construction. Wilder Bowl has become "Wilder Hole" and it's hard to know which pathways will be blocked off on your way to anything.
One last big difference from a regular semester is the heat. Most people are complaining about it a lot, but as a heat-hardy person who gets cold astonishingly easily and has a condition that keeps their hands cold pretty much all the time, I am living. I'm actually pretty bothered by the amount of study spaces and classrooms that are heavily air-conditioned, because being in a cold place (even when I'm wearing warm things) kind of shuts my brain off. Also, I just want to dress for the heat!
To be honest, I'm glad Oberlin did this weird three-semester thing. I'd rather have to grind but get to be with my friends when it's hot out than when it's vacillating between warm-ish and Ohio freezing. On a friendship scale, the difference in campus population has made it easier for me to bond more deeply with less people, which I would always take over bonding halfway with more people, and it's nice to have a semester that feels just a little less intense. We'll see how I feel once I've done three semesters in a row with no long break, but for now, I'm grateful to be here.