My name is Mikayla Tolliver (she/her) and I’m a sophomore writing major and a sociology minor. Last year I wrote a column for The Ithacan called “Ask a Freshman” in which I focused on my first year of college during the pandemic. This year, I was inspired to start a new column, this time to focus on sharing the truth of college life, this time with a bit more experience. In my column, “Finding Ithaca,” I want to be honest and talk about the college experience based upon personal experiences and dive into the parts we don’t often share when family and friends back home ask, “How’s college going?”
It has become increasingly clear to me that my first semester on campus last spring was not in any way “normal.” I’m not saying I was naive, I completely understood that things were different, but now that Ithaca College has created a version of a normal semester, I’m realizing just how much I missed out on … and how much I wasn’t ready for.
Due to my first two semesters going as well as they could in a virtual or hybrid setting, I began to feel confident in my “college abilities.” I was encouraged to take on the role of resident assistant, an experience in itself that I could probably write a novel about. I also began writing for Buzzsaw Magazine and continued writing for The Ithacan. Add on being a peer leader, taking my required classes, and overall trying to find that “balance” we all seem to chase after, I’ve created a knotted rope of responsibilities that I have no clue how to untwist.
I’ll be honest in saying I feel like a freshman. I still feel that vulnerability I felt upon being on campus for my first semester starting last February, and that irritating ache of feeling like I never have enough time to stay on top of things. I feel like the Class of 2024 has been able to adapt, mainly by force. Each of the four current classes has its fair share of ramifications relating to the pandemic. As a sophomore, I was put on campus halfway through the academic year, and if I’m being honest, I’ve been lucky. I’ve made great friends, have a major that I love, and love the town. I wonder if this was all sheer luck.
It’s important to talk about how we’re still in a pandemic. While the COVID-19 vaccines have helped us to open up more, I think it’s important, especially when talking about burnout, to accept that we’re still in a pandemic. It seems like Ithaca College has moved forward in imitating a normal semester and for the most part, I’m grateful for this. However, we need to acknowledge that being in a pandemic adds to stress. For example, someone sneezes in class and for many, our minds go to the worst-case scenario even if you know they probably just have a cold.
I generally feel comfortable going to class and eating in dining halls, but that doesn’t mean I’m not actively and subconsciously worried about the pandemic especially when a stranger gets really close to me or isn’t wearing their mask in public spaces where they’re required.
Not having experienced a normal semester, the workload feels like a lot. I am genuinely unable to tell if it’s a lot, or if it’s that I’ve grown used to Zoom classes. It’s been tricky trying to get things done on time and stay organized. I like to think I am an organized person and I tend to write down my assignments, but some days, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time to get it all done.
Taking on the role of resident assistant, a peer leader, an editor for Buzzsaw and taking classes are things I enjoy and want to enjoy, but it’s hard to picture a first-semester freshman me doing all of this. It feels wrong to take on the role of a knowledgeable returner while never having had the experiences I now tell freshmen about.