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Students Return For A 'More Normal' School Year At UNC-Greensboro

Liz Schlemmer
A sign on the campus at UNC-Greensboro encourages Spartan students to "vax up" for the Fall 2021 semester.

Thousands of college students across North Carolina are starting classes this week, and the ordinary signs of the first day of class were back at UNC-Greensboro as students started the semester Tuesday.

Sidewalks were filled, sorority sisters were handing out pamphlets, and lots of students were trying to find their classes.

Amaya Sullivan volunteered to help her fellow students navigate campus. She was stationed at a crossroads with a bright green shirt and a giant flag that signals she's the person to ask for directions.

She's a sophomore and glad to be back.

"It's been really nice to see campus much more active compared to last year," Sullivan said.

Liz Schlemmer
Sophomore Amaya Sullivan, right, gives directions to first year student Sasha Utley on the first day of class at UNC Greensboro, August 17, 2021.

But with the Delta variant surging, the atmosphere isn't everything students hoped for this fall.

"There were definitely certain expectations of like, 'Oh, like, it's over!' Or 'Oh, we won't have to wear masks around campus or things like that,'" Sullivan said. "Then out of nowhere, all the rules went back to what they were last year, which is fine."

Sullivan said she doesn't mind the university's policy of wearing masks in indoor public spaces, which is also in line with local health guidelines for Guilford County.

"Because personally, I don't have to do makeup on the bottom half of my face so I'm not complaining," Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said she doesn't mind that three out of her five classes are online. The university is offering more online classes than before the pandemic, but more in-person sections than last year.

Another thing that's new across UNC system schools is a strict get-vaccinated-or-get-tested policy.

"You either had to show proof of your vaccine card or some kind of COVID test to come back to campus and if you can't provide either of those, you're not allowed to move in," Sullivan said.

Students who don't comply will not be assigned a move-in date or given key card access to their dorm. So far, university officials say 96.3% of UNC-G residential students have either shown documentation of their vaccination status or a recent negative COVID-19 test. The university is working with the remaining students to reach full compliance before they move in.

Liz Schlemmer
UNC Greensboro student Maximo Vilar studies a campus map on the first day of class, August 17, 2021.

Plus students taking at least one in-person class who aren't vaccinated must go through regular surveillance testing. It's certainly an incentive to get vaccinated, says UNC-G Spokeswoman Eden Bloss.

Bloss said some policies had to be updated quickly as the Delta variant changed the game, but the goal is the same — safe, in-person classes.

"Everyone was excited about being on campus and having everything be as close to normal as possible," Bloss said.

"At this point, we've already done this. We know what this looks like... and we know what not to do," Bloss said. "As many students that are vaccinated as possible, we know that that helps."

About three-quarters of students living in residence halls at UNC-G are fully vaccinated, according to the university. First-year student Kaitlyn Wood said she's glad she's one of them.

"My mom wanted me just to get it just to be safe," Wood said. "There are so many people here that it's one less thing to have to worry about."

Instead, she can worry about getting settled in, after moving last weekend from Sarasota, Florida.

In the hallway of the student center, senior Alexander Shannon browsed through posters to decorate his apartment. He says this is his first time back on campus since last fall.

Liz Schlemmer
UNC Greensboro senior Alexander Shannon skims through posters to decorate his apartment, August 17, 2021.

"It's great. I love it. [I'm] seeing people that I haven't seen since the pandemic started," Shannon said.

He feels hopeful that he'll have a senior year that lives up to his expectations.

"I'm just excited to be back in the swing of things and be more normal, even than last year," Shannon said.

UNC-G has some positive momentum to build on. The university had one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 transmission — if not the lowest — in the UNC system last school year, a UNC system official confirmed. Everyone on campus is hoping to have a nearly-normal school year, despite an ongoing pandemic.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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