By Michelle Lin
LOS ANGELES, CA – With the 2022-2023 school year approaching, students and university faculty must be on the same page about what the “new normal” is, because the experiences, behaviors and emotions people have left over from the COVID-19 pandemic are valid.
In the 2021-2022 school year, UCLA’s attempt at returning to a “new normal” was different from the expectations held by many students. The divergence from previous long-standing requirements for mask mandates, testing procedures, and schoolwork made the transition bumpy.
The university was slow to relax the mask mandate, as it was cautious about the large student body living and studying on campus. UCLA continued to uphold the mask mandate, even when the city of Los Angeles loosened its mandate. The university’s mask mandate was unstable throughout the school year, often ending or returning depending on the surge of COVID cases.
The “new normal” is difficult to achieve, as everyone has different levels of comfort, especially with COVID anxieties. University-set rules and regulations are tough to monitor with such a large student body.
Students ignoring the mask mandates while inside university buildings, or lying about COVID positive tests may have contributed to surges in COVID cases and eventually the reinstallation of the mask mandate, some suggest.
As of June 2022, UCLA found that 61.6 percent of adults in Los Angeles County wear face-coverings. This statistic reflects the undecided nature many have about masking, and is also a premise used in many arguments for and against mandates.
The norm for masking seems to be up in the air.
Unfortunately, the COVID crisis exacerbated many school-related motivation issues that students faced pre-pandemic, but it also inspired innovation and problem-solving during quarantine. Through technology, resources such as counseling, tutoring and even the distribution of course materials improved.
While these technological improvements are largely beneficial, they will not be worthwhile unless the mask mandate is followed strictly at the same time. Students need to take responsibility for reporting their COVID symptoms and communicating with people they were in contact with.
On the other hand, professors have to be understanding with deadlines and absences. A community effort is necessary to overcome this pandemic.
Last year, students were frustrated with professors who had stricter standards for masking and enforcing deadlines. While many professors have been gracious about deadlines and following university protocols, communication barriers and disagreements on what students or faculty are comfortable with still exist.
The pandemic has become a cultural and social entity that has greater effects than what laws, protocols or regulations can contain. While COVID protocols can help students stay safe from the pandemic, there are parts of post-COVID life that can induce anxieties.
The lack of social interaction because of practices such as quarantine and isolation also will affect how the new class of freshmen acclimate the large student body of UCLA.
Like last year’s freshmen, 2022’s incoming freshmen will have to deal with social and COVID anxieties. It would be unreasonable to expect students to adjust to college life after living through such an unsteady and distressing time.
Currently, the “new normal” is not very well-defined. It is a placeholder for the post-COVID world everyone should discuss. It is trying to go back to the way things were before the pandemic began, albeit with some technological improvements and health precautions.
This flexible mindset regarding the future of our community normalizes the very specific COVID experiences everyone went through during 2020 to the early half of 2021.
Discussing and acknowledging these experiences with the UCLA community allows topics like masks and academic policies to be put into context and more easily understood by both people for, and against, masking.
On the university level, COVID should be taken seriously, rather than being left behind as focus shifts to bringing back a “normal” situation. This forced denial is unrealistic and impossible to realize; COVID has changed our environment and our society in a permanent way.
UCLA should receive open feedback from students on the current COVID policies and improve upon them for the upcoming school year. While the transition from heavy usage of COVID protocols to more relaxed regulations cannot appease everyone, it is a productive and necessary step towards embracing a post-COVID reality rather than returning to something that no longer exists.