As home becomes campus, DU freshers go a year without friends, class
Last year, 18-year-old Vanshika Aggarwal was admitted into an undergraduate course at Lady Shri Ram College, a dream she harboured since Class 10. As her first year winds to a close, she has been to the college just once, and has not met any of her classmates in person.
“I am one of the luckier ones,” she says. “At least I got to see the campus.”
Aggarwal is just one of over 73,000 undergraduate students who have barely visited their campus since they got into Delhi University colleges and courses in the Non-Collegiate Women’s Education Board (NCWEB) last year — soon after the pandemic took hold in the country.
The Covid-19 outbreak has forced educational institutes in Delhi to stay shut since March last year. While final-year students were able to visit their colleges earlier this year for practical classes, most first-year undergraduate students haven’t been able to visit campus since their courses began in November 2020. Their academic year is set to end in August, leaving them with only a few months before they move to the second year. For several of these undergraduate students, this has meant a year’s worth of interactions with classmates, peers and teachers lost.
“My biggest fear is that whenever college reopens, everybody else is going to have their own circle of friends and I may not have anyone to talk to. College is scary because in school we have our own identities after being involved in various activities. Here, we are nobody and the year-long isolation may only make it more difficult for some students,” said Aggarwal.
Several students also lamented missing out on several extra-curricular activities (ECA) and fests, which DU colleges are known for. While many college societies organised these activities online, students said they could not be compared with participating in these activities in person.
Madurai resident Aakash BT, 19, a first-year BCom (Honours) student, cancelled his admission in a private university and moved to Shri Ram College of Commerce because of the exposure and ECA options it offered to its students.
“SRCC has one of the best fests, which is organised by second-year students. If the pandemic situation is better by next year, we have to organise the fest without any experience. These festivals involve a lot of teamwork, organisational skills, time management, interpersonal skills, getting corporate exposure while arranging for sponsors – all of which is important for our overall personality development. DU offers something beyond just academics, and we missed out on that this year,” he said.
The pandemic also forced the university administration to make changes to the admission process which also allowed for reservation of 5% supernumerary seats each under ECA and sports quotas. Last year, DU scrapped the ECA trials due to the pandemic and awarded points on the basis of past certificates.
Anamika Prasad, DU’s deputy dean (cultural activities), said the two-fold transition from school to college and from offline to online learning has made things difficult for first-year students.
“While they have had some experience with online activities, we agree it is of no match to the real-life experience of engaging in cultural events. Conducting academic activities like classes or seminars through online mode is easier than arranging online cultural events which require an audience. Moving forward, whenever these students return to campus, colleges can organise cultural and communication workshops to make up for the things that these students missed out on,” she said.
While a majority of students haven’t been able to visit their campuses, the situation at St Stephen’s College is a little different, because the college kept its hostel open for first- and second-year students.
Falit Sijariya, 18, a first-year undergraduate BA programme student at the college, was looking forward to engaging in co-curricular activities as he did not get much exposure during his schooling in Meerut. “Even though I have been able to visit the college and interact with my peers, I haven’t been able to take part in co-curricular activities. Due to a delayed academic cycle, our seniors are busy with their exams and so even the online activities are not taking place for now.”
The lack of interaction with teachers also means that colleges are finding it hard to establish a connection with students and offering them the help they need during the pandemic. Bijayalaxmi Nanda, principal of Miranda House, said they have engaged several college societies to interact with the first-year students. “We have been trying to reach out to students who have faced personal losses during the pandemic or are finding it difficult to manage things. However, it has been a challenge since most of the outstation students haven’t even visited their college once or met their teachers,” she said.