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After a year and a half of attending college during unprecedented times, it has been welcome to return to a more normal school year at South Dakota State University.
From fully in-person instruction, to full capacity events such as football games and student organization events, to unrestricted access to dining services, it really does feel like a normal year on campus.
SDSU is operating under a mask-optional policy and most students are taking advantage of that policy around campus from what I can tell. In any given class, students largely choose to attend mask-less apart from a few students.
Students can choose any seat they wish in a classroom, a change from last year’s restrictions where every few chairs were marked as unavailable to ensure social distancing.
On the faculty side, two of my five instructors regularly wear a mask during class, however, many are still cautious to maintain some level of social distancing while teaching.
Remnants of the last year remain across campus such as hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes, but the plexiglass shields which used to separate the class from the instructor and sometimes students from other students have been removed campus-wide.
Many instructors are still encouraging students to play it safe by promoting testing COVID-19 when symptomatic, offering online attendance options for students who either feel ill or are waiting on test results and informing students of vaccination clinics, toeing the line of information versus encouragement.
The environment on campus lives up to the marketing promises the university made over the summer, to be “On Campus. In Person.”
The student experience is largely what a student would have seen pre-covid. Experiences such as tailgating before a football game, sitting directly next to someone in class, and eating lunch in a packed student union have all returned.
With that return to normalcy, excitement and engagement has increased significantly. There is a certain energy across campus that was lacking last year, almost a sense of more pride and enjoyment of both the academic and social aspects of college.
While my experience as a student at SDSU has returned to a somewhat normal year, it is clear that COVID remains a concern for the university.
In an email to all students sent on Sept. 2 from the SDSU COVID Response Team, the university provided a vaccination clinic where vaccination was incentivized at a rate of $50 in “hobo dough” credits for each dose administered.
Testing and reporting of cases also remain something students are encouraged to participate in. Free testing for students is provided on campus and anyone who has either tested positive or is in quarantine is strongly encouraged to fill out the SDSU COVID case notification form.
The city of Brookings recently announced a vaccination incentive program called “Your Shot to Win” that is aimed at both students and members of the community.
Vaccinated students are eligible to win $1,000 scholarships through the city lottery giveaway at a rate of two students per week, totaling $10,000 in scholarships.
The student interest in these programs has been mixed, but done with an overall understanding that this is the situation we are all in. Vaccinated or not, there are concerns from students that campus could return to some form of last year’s restricted conditions. But that has not stopped many from enjoying the trappings that make the college experience what it is, or should be.
About Andrew Rasmussen
Andrew Rasmussen, a native of Brookings, S.D., is a journalism student at South Dakota State University who is the recipient of the 2021 Jeffrey B. Nelson Investigative Journalism Endowed Internship sponsored by SDSU and South Dakota News Watch.