Gray clouds and mist settled over Brenau University in Gainesville as small numbers of students quietly hurried to their first classes of the semester Monday morning.
Although the start of college looked different than in years prior because of new COVID-19 protocols, many students said this difference didn’t come as a surprise.
“My first day was comfortable just because we know what the world is going through,” Brenau sophomore Dennisse Rodriguez said as she walked past Pearce Auditorium. “No one was like, ‘This is weird.’ It was just like a normal class even though we were all kind of separated.”
Anna Feng, who had just left a gender studies class with Rodriguez when she spoke with The Times, said she felt safe attending her first course of the semester because everyone at Brenau is required to wear a mask. When she entered the classroom, she said cleaning wipes were offered to students.
“As a resident student here, I just feel like the school life is not really fun anymore because we can’t be as a big group walking around campus anymore,” she said. “Other than that, I feel like it’s the best time to focus on studying.”
Feng said her only worries revolve around on-campus living.
“I have a roommate — that’s something I was concerned about,” she said. “It would be better if they separated us with our own rooms.”
Despite the dreary weather and pandemic, fraternal twins MaryWynn and Sally Brannon couldn’t help but express enthusiasm for their first day of college.
The two freshmen had just finished their English class as they walked to the math and science department building. Sally said their first course gave them a “good taste of what it’s all about.”
“We’re both playing tennis, so we’re excited,” Sally said. “It was just a good fit all around.”
Like many students at Brenau, Stephanie Rangel, a sophomore, is taking a combination of in-person and online classes. On Monday she took her first course of the semester on campus.
Compared to the beginning of her freshman year, Rangel said starting classes during the pandemic “wasn’t too difficult.”
Students, faculty and staff are now required to undergo a daily screening checklist before entering their respective classes and workplaces. The form includes six questions, one of which prompts people to check their temperature to certify it’s less than 100.3 degrees.
Rangel said her professor checked to make sure all her students finished the survey before coming into class Monday morning.
“So far, so good,” Rangel said. “With the whole situation, everybody is wearing face masks and we’re sitting separately. I feel good.”
Jessi Barker Shrout, chair of Brenau’s math and science department, said all the university professors are conducting a combination of in-person, remote and hybrid courses. She said all classes that take place on campus are filmed, giving students the option to either tune into their classes online or physically attend. Shrout said the online classes are asynchronous where students work on their own schedule.
Entering her 13th year teaching at Brenau, Shrout described the fall semester as “a new experience.”
“We’ve had a lot of good prep work over the summer,” she said. “We’ve had time to prepare. We’re being flexible knowing that changes might happen and we’re just trying to be good with that. Our students are really understanding, so it helps.”
Brenau earlier rolled out its fall 2020 COVID-19 protocols.