C/O Travis Nguyen

How McMaster’s first-year students attended a welcome week amid a global pandemic

Welcome Week is a week dedicated to incoming freshmen, allowing them to participate in activities that encourage forming connections with their classmates. Though it is such a well known event amongst university students, only one year of students can attest to attending such an event in the midst of a global pandemic.

The freshman entering McMaster University in the year of 2021 have found themselves trying to adjust to university life in the midst of the pandemic. Despite the pandemic, they began their year with a welcome week with socially distancing guidelines. 

“Daily screening: all attendees must complete the COVID-19 provincial self-assessment within one hour of their intended arrival on campus. Participants will be asked about the completion of screening upon arrival at the event,” stated the Student Success Centre on their COVID-19 guidelines for on-campus events.

On the Welcome Week website, seven distinct guidelines were set out to align with the City of Hamilton guidelines. This included having only 100 people at each outdoor event, including those hosting the events. Alongside this, students were required to wear masks at events where social distancing was difficult to maintain.

During the week of Sept. 1 to 8, 2021, first-years gathered all over the McMaster campus to meet their peers. The week followed a hybrid format, mixed with online and in-person components. Students were able to schedule their ideal welcome week schedule with the McMaster Welcome Week website

“Coming out of a year of fully online school basically, Grade 12, it was just really nice to walk outside and see people, just interact with other people. Being in the center of this more social environment after so much isolation,” said Nazifa Tasnim, a first-year engineering student.

This hybrid approach was appreciated by students as it allowed them an opportunity to meet classmates. Tasnim was open to admitting that virtual aspects of the events were often a little harder when it came down to meeting new people.

“There were virtual events that I signed up for but more or less it was only fun sometimes because I would have my friends, who also lived in my residency building, in the room with me doing the games. In terms of meeting new people, the virtual events were really hard when it came down to knowing anyone. The physical interactions were better in terms of getting to know someone for the first time. At least that’s what I think a lot of people feel. Definitely how I feel,”  said Tasnim.

All of these events were run by upper-year undergraduate students. The large majority chose to volunteer their first weeks of university to help guide their younger classmates. To prepare these upper-year students for their roles, they had mandatory training and this year, training was marginally different as they had to factor in COVID-19.

“We had a COVD-19 awareness training that was done via Avenue to Learn. We also had an in-person training that also went over COVID guidelines and all the social distancing rules. I found that they were relatively efficient because during the event all the guidelines were enforced,” said Angelina Zhang, a second-year science representative

Despite being older than the first-years, many were second-years, students who had also been new to the physical campus. Zhang shared how her online experience impacted her role as a Sciclone.

“As a second-year representative, during Welcome Week 2021, while not having any in-person events for my first year I feel really rewarded doing this. Because I am helping the first years this year to have a better Welcome Week experience than I did last year,” said Zhang.

Different faculties had a wide variety of events. When speaking with an arts and science representative, they talked about how they adapted to Welcome Week amid COVID-19.

“In terms of the planning specifically, all the faculties got together once a week for two hours with other administrative people throughout the whole summer to go through training, plan the events and get the student input side of things. For us specifically, it was two to three hours every week and we worked together to bounce ideas off each other,” said Nicole Rob, co-planner for arts & science Welcome Week events.

Rob proceeded to explain how COVID-19 guidelines affected each faculty differently.

“Every faculty is different because we have different numbers of students. For example, Arts & Science, as well as [the] Indigenous Studies Program, are the two faculties that have the least amount of students.

[The arts & sciences Program] has an incoming cohort this year of 68 students. Whereas there are faculties like Science that have 1,700 coming in this year. So what we can do and what type of events we did plan looks a little different for each faculty because of those numbers,” said Rob.

First-year students were allowed the opportunity to reside in the residence buildings found all over campus. This allowed for events that pertained to helping them meet and bond with their roommates.

“I live in [residence]. I do think it helped improve my Welcome Week experience mostly because there were a lot of [residence-specific] Welcome Week events. In those groupings, I got to meet people who also lived in my building or surrounding buildings, which meant that there were more people that I would get to see often, and would already know their names,” said Tasnim.

As one of the many planners of this week-long event, Rob shared what her favourite part of Welcome Week was.

“I think just seeing all of it come together was really cool. With COVID right now everything is fairly uncertain and it is hard to even envision an in-person event at this point because it has been so long since we’ve seen big gatherings of people. It was nice to be able to give the first-years that experience, as someone who had a fully online Welcome Week. As a second-year it was cool to see the first-years be able to enjoy a bit of the in-person experience,” she said.

Overall, Welcome Week was one that was truly historic. Despite the stresses and inconveniences brought about by COVID-19, Welcome Week this year was a huge success and an appreciated welcome for the incoming class. 

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