Winter 2021 Issue

Tenacity 101

William & Mary students persevere through a challenging fall semester and make unexpected discoveries

Interviews By Tina Eshleman
Photos By Alfred Herczeg P ’23

We asked several undergraduates to share their experience attending W&M in person or remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic this fall. Here are perspectives from a freshman living in a residence hall, a sophomore attending remotely from England and a senior living off-campus in Williamsburg.

Kami Vigilant ’24

Going from a boarding school where everybody knows each other to a whole new environment was nerve-wracking. I didn’t expect I would know anyone here, but I felt welcomed from the moment I stepped on campus.

A student from my high school is a junior here now and one of my teachers from that school is a graduate student at the School of Education, so I hang out with them. I’m in a sorority as well, Delta Gamma. I went to an all-girls high school, and the whole sisterhood thing is something I was looking for here and I wasn’t sure I would find it at a coed school.

My roommate, Kendal Sanders ’24, is my best friend. We live in Griffin B. I met her over the summer through William & Mary’s new student Instagram page. We’re basically the same person. Our families live 20 minutes from each other near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and a few weeks before school started, I asked her if she wanted to meet and get coffee. She wants to work at The Hague and do international human rights law, which is also my dream.

Two of my classes are in person, one is a hybrid and the rest are online. I was prepared for the workload, but some classes are harder than I expected. There were a few days where I was thinking, “I got in, but can I succeed here?” I feel more confident now. Luckily, there are people around who are either taking similar classes or have taken the classes before.

Every Saturday, I try to go to the Black Lives Matter protests at the top of Confusion Corner. Even though we’re worrying about the next midterm or essay, after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in police encounters, we’re also worried about when we’re going to have to say someone else’s name. It’s not my first time at a predominantly white institution. What’s important to me is that while I stand out, I can still find a place to fit in.

I expected to feel a lot more isolated. My roommate and I have a routine of going to dinner every day at 6:30 p.m. We text our friends and meet up at Sadler, Marketplace or the Caf. We’ve both gotten involved with the Conduct and Honor Advisor Program (CHAP). Late in the semester, we both wound up going home to quarantine after one of our friends tested positive for COVID-19, but none of her contacts tested positive, and we returned to campus for finals week. This spring and summer, I’m looking forward to being part of the D.C. Summer Institutes. I truly do like being here. I think this environment is such a great place to learn.

Noah Freye ’21

I was an orientation area director (OAD) this fall, and the pandemic definitely affected our work. OADs spend all year organizing and planning orientation and overseeing orientation aides. Because of the pandemic, we had to shift any large events to being online. We ended up meeting via Zoom once a week during the summer to get ready. I was an orientation aide the previous two years. It’s my favorite thing I’ve done on campus.

Safety First: Noah Freye ’21 is in his senior year, he found ways to gather with friends while taking precautions.

I live with three friends in a house on Lafayette Street. I’m immunocompromised, so I stay away from campus, except for COVID-19 testing. I’m majoring in psychology, with a minor in public health. All of my classes are online. Living with friends has helped this semester feel more normal, so that part is good.

We built a fire pit in our backyard, and bonfires have been a big thing this fall. It’s also nice that we can have two or three other people over and sit outside. I have ulcerative colitis, so I go to a hospital every six weeks to get infusions and they’re an immunosuppressant. With the pandemic, I just have to be more careful about going out places.

I used to spend a lot of time on the Terrace and other common areas between classes. I miss being able to run into people. It’s convenient to roll out of bed and turn on my laptop, but I do miss going to classes in person.

The condensed semester has felt more stressful. For the spring, I would like to take in-person classes to have some normalcy back. Spending time with friends and making the most of my senior year is the goal right now. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to graduating. I’m applying right now to master of social work programs. My end goal is a career in counseling and therapy.

Cameron Lynch ‘23

I’m from Richmond, Virginia, but my family moved to London for my dad’s job after my first two years of high school. I’ve been in England since March. I was in New York City visiting my sister for spring break when colleges started canceling in-person classes because of the pandemic. I got on one of the last flights to London that I could find. I never moved out of my dorm room. I’m living off of what I didn’t bring to college and the clothes I had for spring break.

I had the full intention of going back to campus in the fall. But during the summer, I started to realize it wouldn’t be safe to live in a dorm and eat in dining halls because I’m immunocompromised — I have Type 1 diabetes, a form of muscular dystrophy and celiac disease. I applied for the W&M Washington Center program, which allowed me to attend fully online.

Staying Connected: Cameron Lynch ’23 spent the fall semester in London studying remotely. Nevertheless, she took part in dance classes at William & Mary. She is shown above in images from a performance video.

I wrote a letter in June and posted it on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, saying I felt like my peers weren’t taking COVID-19 seriously. I counted 40 responses from people I hadn’t met before who were in the same situation. We formed a support group called Chronic and Iconic, and we now have 70 members from the U.S., Canada and Europe. I also have one for William & Mary students with about 30 people. With a friend in Richmond, I wrote to other Virginia universities and said they have to provide options online. It was an opportunity to get the issue in the public’s awareness and engage in a bigger conversation about disability issues.

I’m a government major, and it’s definitely hard work taking remote classes, especially with the time difference. I really enjoy the Washington Center; everyone’s been amazing. I also take a modern dance technique class via Zoom and I’m in a performance ensemble class. Besides my classes, I’m doing a 35-hour-per-week internship with Disability Rights UK, which has been a wonderful opportunity and I get to write actual policy.

I think as challenging as it’s been, it’s amazing to be able to speak out for a group of people that doesn’t always have their voices heard. My life plan has developed through this experience. I want to start a conference and a nationwide organization of groups.

I feel like W&M has done a good job of making sure students are safe. I think I miss Swem Library the most, which is very William & Mary of me to say, but I’ve been struggling studying for exams at home and not having separate study spaces. I miss my friends. My mom said, “Where would you go in the world if it wasn’t for COVID?” I said Williamsburg. I love William & Mary and I’m excited to go back in the spring!