Freshman’s first semester of college

By Savannah Huls/El Inde

It’s a Friday night in October at the University of Arizona. Cars drive past the seemingly vacant campus. The stadium lights shine down on an empty football field. The dormitory halls of Colonia de la Paz are silent. Riley Auchampach, a freshman, sits atop her twin bed participating in a virtual freshmen event through her computer screen, disheartened by the reality of her first semester of college. 

Auchampach is a 5’4″, light brown-haired, blue-eyed girl who loves the outdoors. She grew up in Boise, Idaho, and chose the University of Arizona because she knew she could do outdoor activities all year long. So she left her home in Idaho and moved to Arizona in August to begin what she thought would be the best four years of her life.

With the world in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she quickly realized that she was not going to get the same freshman experience that everyone else had: no classes, strict rules, social distancing and mask enforcement even in her own dorm room. “I didn’t consider how big of an impact it would make on me or the social aspect of school,” Auchampach said. 

Auchampach lives in a dorm with one roommate. They both have to follow the strictly-enforced COVID policies, including wearing a mask at all times and not having guests in rooms — or they can be written up or fined. A write-up is essentially a warning, but after three write-ups a student can be put on probation.

Because these rules inhibit socializing with other people, Auchampach has not had many opportunities to make friends. “Honestly, I was kind of nervous about making friends, and especially because of COVID, I didn’t know how many people would be out and about and willing to hang out,” Auchampach said.

She and her roommate had to find new ways to get out and socialize. “At the beginning of school, a lot of freshmen would hang out on the mall so we would meet a lot of people that way and then we would just meet friends of our friends. Usually to socialize we go out and eat or just do homework together outside or stuff like that,” Auchampach said.

Although she is constantly looking for new ways to try to make friends, the process has been more challenging than she expected. As campus COVID-19 cases began to increase, people became less willing to go out and socialize. “It’s been harder because I thought that everybody especially in the dorms would be super close,” Auchampach said. 

Riley Auchampach (right) with her sorority “big sister” Jacey Brockhoff (left).

Auchampach is majoring in environmental studies. Since the beginning of the semester, the majority of the college’s classes have been online. The only in-person class Auchampach has is tap dance. She is taking it to fill a general education credit. Auchampach is in the small percentage of total freshmen who have experienced an in-person class this semester. “After having one of my classes in-person, I definitely like in-person better because it gets you out and about and you can see people,” Auchampach said. 

Jacey Brockhoff, Auchampach’s “big sister” in her sorority, Chi Omega, is a sophomore at the University of Arizona. Brockhoff, a global studies major, was thankful to have in-person classes her freshman year (all of her classes were in-person her first year).

“I think having in-person classes is really beneficial for freshmen because it gives them a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed,” Brockhoff said. Having in-person classes also helped Brockhoff transition into college. “I think it teaches you a lot of lessons about time management and just learning how to act in a college lecture hall versus a high school classroom,” Brockhoff said. 

In addition to in-person classes, Brockhoff thinks the biggest thing that freshmen this year are missing out on are the events the dorms halls would put on for students. They had karaoke nights, taco nights and lots of socializing events every week last year. “They really put in a lot of effort to try to get us to know each other,” Brockhoff said. Auchampach also feels like she is missing out. In addition to the freshmen events, she wishes there could be football games, tailgates and concerts on the mall. 

The University of Arizona has created a few designated COVID-19 dorms to quarantine all freshmen students who contract the virus. As soon as a freshman student in a dorm tests positive, the university is notified and the student is sent to the quarantine dorm. They are required to stay for two weeks, starting from the first day they had symptoms.

The last thing Auchampach expected was to get COVID-19 herself. A few weeks into school she started feeling symptoms. “I didn’t really know what exactly it was,” Auchampach said. She had a cough, a headache and shortness of breath. “I remember one time in the middle of the night I walked to the bathroom and it was so hard to breathe.” 

She went to an urgent care facility to get tested for the flu, which came back negative. The next day, she went back and got tested for strep throat and COVID-19. After Auchampach’s strep throat test came back negative, she knew her COVID-19 test was going to be positive. Auchampach received her positive test result and was informed that somebody would come pick her up to take her to the COVID dorm. “I started frantically packing up my stuff,” Auchampach said. Because it was too late at night, she was not taken to the dorm until the following morning. Auchampach was dropped off at Coconino dorm hall to quarantine until she was healthy again. 

Auchampach’s roommate, Amanda Smith, also contracted COVID two days later but was sent to a different dorm to quarantine. Despite being alone in a new place, Auchampach was excited for another opportunity to make new friends in the COVID dorm.

“I had heard that the COVID dorms were kind of fun,” Auchampach said. She had heard about the parties, game nights and all the socializing that went on in the quarantine dorms that were not allowed in the regular dorms. The beginning and the end of her stay were the most fun. “There were COVID parties because everyone already had COVID — so why not?” Auchampach said. She spent most of her time in the small outdoor courtyard; she would do her homework, eat, and Facetime her family there. Although she was able to make some friends, “The majority of the people were not the most friendly,” Auchampach said. She describes her time in the COVID dorm as being very lonely and sad. The pre-packaged meals she was provided made her sick and she had to start ordering her meals via Uber Eats. “It was awful. By the time it was over I wanted to get out,” Auchampach said. 

Despite all this, Auchampach has tried to keep her head up. She is now almost done with her first semester of college. Through the process, she has learned not to wait for opportunities to come to her, but instead to seek them out herself. She never expected her first experience of college to be during a global pandemic. “I kind of thought that it would be over by this point, but it’s still a really prominent issue in everybody’s lives,” Auchampach said. She has learned to adjust to the guidelines and make the most of her first semester regardless of the situation.