In late August, Boston University embarked on a two-week stretch that would shape and define its unprecedented fall 2020 semester.
A critical website called Back2BU had launched, and it included everything from where students would get tested on campus for COVID-19, how contact tracing would work, how the coronavirus would impact financial options for students, what residence life would be like, to how BU would function for faculty and staff, and much more.
In an interview on September 1, the day before classes began, President Robert A. Brown described what the last few months had been like for him: “This summer has been probably the most intense work experience I’ve had as a leader, because we’ve been working since April to first develop a plan to repopulate the campus, then executing all the pieces.” But he expressed hope that students would drive the safety of campus life. “If people say you are being disrespectful and doing something dangerous for everyone around you, that’s the strongest pressure we can put on each other.”
Move-In was spread out over two weeks rather than a few days. Priscilla Francois (CAS’23), who was among the first to arrive—in her case, to Claflin Hall—gave three words to describe how BU felt as she arrived: “I’d say different, quiet, and clean.”
Once classes began, a sense of normalcy, or at least a new normal, settled in. Oh sure, there were glitches with Wi-Fi. And some faculty wrestled with balancing their attention between remote and in-person students. And some buildings had better ventilation than others. And the quality of BU’s food couldn’t equal prepandemic life because menus had to be adjusted. But those who found a way to balance their studies between Zoom and in-person—and took advantage of beautiful fall weather by studying outside when possible—were able to experience a semester unlike any in BU’s long history.
“I’m trying to take the highs with the lows and be as flexible as possible because we don’t really have another choice,” said Hannah Palacios (COM’21), summing up the feelings of many of her fellow Terriers.