Annenberg Radio

Life on campus during the pandemic

Three students at Furman University discuss living and learning in person amid COVID-19.

When the first wave of the coronavirus hit the U.S. last March, colleges and universities around the country shuttered until further notice. Though USC has yet to reopen, schools in other states have slowly welcomed students back to campus. Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, gave their students the option to return in person last August. We spoke with Furman sophomores Maggie Atchley, Maddie Dresen and Jackson Blackman about their year on campus during the pandemic.


Like many colleges around the country, Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, sent its students home last March. Maggie Atchley was a freshman at the time, and she found it hard to live hundreds of miles from her newfound community.

I did miss my friends. And I mean, you spend every waking moment with these people that live in your dorm building, so not seeing them at all was a big adjustment.

However, as the Fall semester rolled around, Furman gave its students the option to return to campus. Sophomore Jackson Blackman jumped at the chance to be back in Greenville.

I am definitely, definitely, definitely glad that Furman is reopen just because it has given me the ability to see some friends, and to just live a little life away from home. I’m just very glad to be back.

With about 2,800 students, Furman’s student body is significantly smaller than USC’s. Still, it’s no easy feat to keep their campus safe. This semester, they’ve reported over 160 positive covid tests in students and around 40 in employees. Maddie Dresen says strict testing protocols help combat the spread.

Either 25% or 50% of the student body is tested about every week, so I think that’s pretty effective.

Maggie says extensive contact tracing also helps people stay responsible.

And there is ways to anonymously report people if they’re going out, or, like, you know, they’re at large public gatherings. And so there’s definitely, like, a, like, a culture of accountability here at Furman that, like, like, everyone wants to be here, and so everyone is participating and trying to lower the spread and lower our contacts.

Safety regulations aside, campus life at Furman has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Everything from extracurricular activities to daily classes look different. Jackson says the hybrid format can make it harder to learn.

The biggest thing for me being a biology major was the lack of in-person labs. It’s hard to learn rudimentary techniques via Zoom, rather than getting in the hands-on experience.

Even simple tasks like eating meals have become more complicated. According to Maddie, the restricted dining halls have been some of the greatest challenges.

You can’t just go up there and toast your own bread and stuff like that. There’s a gated off area, and you have to ask someone to make you a waffle or make you a bagel or get you coffee.

Overall, the atmosphere on campus has just been less vibrant. Being a small school, their grounds used to overflow with intramural sports, community events and general student life. Not this year, says Maggie.

Normally there’s a lot of club and activities going on on campus. And it has been a little less lively. There’s been ways where our activities board has gotten creative to make social distanced events, but it’s very different.

Their college experience may look different than how they originally pictured it, but all three students are extremely grateful to be back on campus. Even with the regulations, Maddie says it’s all worth it to be next door to her friends again.

For me, I think that one of the pros is definitely having everyone so close to me, where I can just go upstairs and see Maggie and knock on her door. Or text Jackson and be like, “Hey, do you want to get dinner?” Be like a minute walk away and just stop in their room, say hi, and leave. It’s just very comforting.

For Maggie, these unconventional experiences have even taught her some valuable lessons.

But I have learned through Covid and through the lack of opportunities to engage in campus activities to live life at a slower pace, which has been somewhat beneficial for my mental and academic well-being. I spend more time focusing on my homework and studies and focusing on myself.

As USC students gear up to return to campus in the Fall, she encourages us to find the silver linings in our situations. Once we’re back, we’ll see what our year at home has taught us about school, and about ourselves. For Annenberg Media, I’m Emily Chung.