Freshman Year 2.0

Author: Katherine Holtz

Freshman Year 2.0

Zoom classes. Dining hall plexiglass dividers muffling any attempts at conversation. Six feet apart. Restrictions on visiting other residence halls. Masks covering the bottom half of classmates’ faces. Football games in a mostly empty stadium.

The class of 2024 not only lost the end of their senior year of high school, but also a conventional freshman year of college. The COVID-19 restrictions from the 2020-2021 school year are now largely gone due to high student vaccination rates across campus, and the current school year is offering a more traditional Notre Dame experience. The class of 2024 is now facing a do-over year — one might describe it as “Freshman Year 2.0.” They have experienced two different sides of Notre Dame: the pandemic world and the post-pandemic world.

One major change for sophomores is the experience of a fully packed stadium for home football games, along with the anticipated return of a boisterous student section.

“I didn’t get to go to the football game last year. I was way too scared of COVID,” said sophomore Claire Kirner. Many other sophomores also missed out on the football games last year which did not provide the typical game-day happenings. Now, with a crowded student section, the return of tailgating and guests permitted in the stadium, Kirner said, “It was really nice to experience the full football experience with all the families coming back.” 

Sophomore Mark Jantz also emphasized the difference in the game day experience from last year to this year.

“I also appreciate all the alumni at games making the football game experience more intense,” he said. “One thing I do miss from last year is being undefeated at home [games],” he added, referring to the loss against the University of Cincinnati. 

A football stadium filled to the brim isn’t the only adjustment for the class of 2024. Virtually everything has changed, from socializing to classes to food in the dining halls. There aren’t any restrictions on students going into other residence halls. Classes are no longer mediated through Zoom. Food can be placed on plates rather than in takeout boxes. With all this comes a revolution in the way sophomores navigate their social and academic lives. 

Nick Lynch, a sophomore in the marching band, described how managing extracurriculars has been difficult, since the current school year is more conventional than last year. “The marching band is back in full swing, and that has been a lot of fun to be a part of. The flip side of all that is that I’m a lot more stressed and pressed for time,” he said.

However, Lynch acknowledged the importance of extracurriculars during a post-COVID campus life. Notre Dame offers several student organizations and sports, a perk that sophomores can finally take full advantage of. Most clubs last year were restricted to Zoom meetings, in-person meetings often required approval from the Student Activities Office. Intramural sports are also making a comeback; last year, residence halls could only compete within their hall, forming multiple teams of residents that played against each other in games.  

“Getting to do everything I’m interested in or that excites me is a positive. For example, I really missed playing volleyball last year, and now that the nets are back up, I’m able to play in intramural leagues and with friends,” Lynch said. 

Socializing, a central part of college life, has also improved tremendously. Restrictions within residence halls were relaxed significantly, which means students in other residence halls are now permitted to visit residence halls that aren’t their own. The rules from last year inhibited sophomores from meeting people in other dorms. This year, Kirner said, the new rules do not make it easier to visit with friends in different halls. 

“Even hanging out with people in other dorms is easier now. I have a twin sister in Ryan. It’s just been really nice to visit other people in their dorms,” Kirner said.

Sophomore students in the Gateway Program are also experiencing a changed social climate this year. The Gateway Program, created in 2013, invites a select number of students to attend Holy Cross College for their first year. The students can then transfer to Notre Dame at the start of their sophomore year. Caitlin Yarusso is a sophomore Gateway student who is now attending Notre Dame and living on campus. Although Holy Cross is a smaller institution than Notre Dame, she said she still had the same restrictions in place at Notre Dame last year.  

“It’s a lot different, but it’s easier to be in a community. The fact that you guys also had those restrictions, like I don’t feel left behind,” she said. 

The dining hall experience has also been transformed since last year. Compostable takeout boxes, plexiglass barriers standing tall between dining hall dates and dining hall employees serving students were last year’s norm. Although this year proves challenging with the Campus Dining labor shortage and long lines accompanying both North and South Dining Hall, the system is largely stamped with a seal of approval from sophomores who did not experience the dining halls pre-COVID.   

Kirner said: “It’s nice to sit with a big group of friends without plastic dividers and not worrying about how many people can sit at a table.” 

On the other hand, Yarusso said, “I do miss the take-out options.”

While the class of 2024 experienced its first year of college wearing masks, socializing in less than ideal conditions and attending classes and clubs on Zoom, the 2021-2022 school year offers a much desired normalcy. It may feel like a continuation of freshman year — from learning how to function in a dining hall that is serve-your-self to proper tailgating etiquette. But now sophomores can confidently say they’ve lived the Notre Dame experience.