Though the pandemic upended many of the college’s usual traditions and delayed the start of the spring semester, Middlebury nonetheless welcomed the new class of around 100 first-year Febs in the last full week of February. Much like the first years who arrived in the fall, the usual orientation experience was replaced by a room quarantine, online floor meetings and socially distanced gatherings. Plans for gap semesters were uprooted; for many students, this semester is their first time venturing from home since the onset of the pandemic nearly a year ago.
First-year Febs are also navigating this new college reality — the only one they’ve ever known — with a slightly different perspective: They watched from afar last semester to see how Covid-19 shaped the Middlebury experience.
Sylvie Shure ’24.5 felt relieved she was beginning college on a campus that successfully handled Covid-19 in the fall but expressed how transitioning into college life after an extended break has been an abrupt change, especially since the pandemic also cut short her senior year of high school.
“A lot of our Febmesters were pretty empty, and it’s been difficult transitioning from a full year of nothing to full-on college,” Shure said. “It feels like a shock to the body.”
The “Febmester” — the semester before Febs enroll in courses — is often a defining aspect of the Feb experience, and although some students were able to continue with their plans through outdoor education programs, the gap semester is not the go-to conversation starter it was for pre-pandemic first-year Febs.
“It’s not something students are really bringing up in conversation because a lot of us are in similar boats,” Shure said. “I hardly ever talk about my Febmester with anyone. There’s a clear understanding that everyone had very different experiences than they expected.”
Though the college experience has been transformed this year, new Febs’ biggest worry remained the same as in years past: integrating with the rest of the first year class. It’s not unusual for the Feb class to stick together during the first few weeks on campus, but the new Covid-19 restrictions make meeting new students even more difficult. Many students shared how they have not yet had the opportunity to meet Regs, but they hope that changes soon.
“I’ve really appreciated the community of Febs, but meeting people outside of that group has been a challenge,” Jude Ceo ’24.5 said. “There are not a lot of spaces to meet new faces yet.”
Finn Warner ’24.5 has had a similar experience.
“I do wish we had the opportunity to know more Regs and were integrated into the community a little better,” he said. “It’s easy to feel separated from the rest of the class, especially with the Covid restrictions.”
Febs’ experiences have also depended on where they are living on campus. Forest Hall, where all of the FebYCs reside, is home to many of the new students, including Ceo and Warner. Both were grateful to be living among so many Febs and felt they have been able to form bonds quicker because of it, despite the lack of interaction with Regs.
Other housing has provided a very different experience. Battell, the largest residence hall for first-year students, is known for its active social scene, and reports of partying and Covid-19 protocol violations spread through campus the first weekend of the semester.
Shure, who lives in Battell, believes most Febs stayed away from the parties since it was still their first week on campus.
“It was surprising to hear everything that was happening [in Battell] but I mainly stayed in my room, so I stayed intentionally unaware,” Shure said. “Most of us don’t quite know how the rules are regulated and enforced yet.”
The first-year Feb experience can create space for instant connections, and new students are grateful for the community that being a Feb provides — even amid the uncertainties of college during a pandemic.
Breanna Guo ’24.5 had never been to Middlebury prior to arrival day and said she did not know much about the college before she stepped foot on its campus this spring.
“I’ve really appreciated finally meeting new people and feeling productive again,” Guo said. “It’s been a really smooth transition, and I’m grateful for the Feb community.”
Roya Touran '23.5 is a news editor.