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By First-Years, For First-Years

Within the throngs of a COVID-era society, the social gap between individuals is greater than ever. We find ourselves locked in solitude, caught in a web of splintering questions and anxieties, as stat after stat adds to surmounting worries. It is hard to feel hope in times like these, where the sanctity of the nation itself is under fire as the presidential election looms closer. Times are bleak, and many questions remain unanswered. Even the idea of togetherness is difficult to conceptualize as this public health crisis drives us further and further apart. 

Despite these troubling times, two students have been working towards bringing a little more light into a dark world. On October 15, Sawyer London and Malvika Dang did what seems to be impossible in light of current events; they created space for students to meet face-to-face

The desire to physically see others is all too familiar, and no one is immune to the sometimes debilitating emotions isolation brings. “COVID has not been well for any of us,” Malvika states. “Freshman year can be tough, but with COVID kicking in, it’s kind of sad.”

They were not alone. A lot of students were feeling this way, caught in the perpetual orchard of solitude, wondering about the future itself and when normalcy can return (if at all.) A freshman named Lily Gibson says, “I consider myself to be a very social person, but I still felt like I couldn’t meet people outside of my house because we didn’t really have an orientation experience. Seeing someone over Zoom at a random event was not the best way to interact.”

Either way, Malvika is right; freshman year is tough. At this time, you stand on the knifepoint of a milestone, balancing atop a tightrope connecting high school and college, tiptoeing into the wonders of independence and autonomy while also dealing with the fear and uncertainty that brings. You are cast into the unfamiliar, trying to figure things out as best as possible. But in the end, no one really knows. Someday, we may look back to these years—as many do already—and focus on the inevitable growth and maturity. It is sad, as well; this year is far from typical, and the new companionship and experiences of the normal freshman experience are lost. The need to socialize burns brighter than ever and events like this generate bonding to create long-lasting relationships beyond the vacuum of chaos.

This event “for freshmen, by freshmen” springs from this inherent human need for companionship, and from the need to build positive relationships in the face of change. “We just had this desire to meet new people, and if we both felt that, and everyone we talked to felt that, we just thought ‘why not?’” Sawyer states, citing the motivation for creating this space for interaction.

This inherent desire for socialization, to meet others, was the ultimate driving force behind the event. Yet there is a sense of surrealism, a detachment from reality that comes from times like these. 

“We have been stuck in our houses, to the point where we did not even know some of these people were freshmen,” states Rivers, another freshman attending. “I don’t even know what the freshmen at Bennington are really like.”

Even with orientation, the experience of reaching out to like-minded peers was still flawed. “Even with so many orientation activities, there were still issues,” Malvika says. “Spreading the word works better when we do it. It becomes more chill and welcoming when something is initiated by people you know.”

To walk about campus so close to companionship, yet so far, creates a surreal detachment from others. But this event not only laid the foundation for solving this issue, but it did so in the simplest ways; through food and conversation. 

Attending the event is easy enough; if you are a freshman, you just grab dinner, show up, and eat. Something as simple as this conceptually meant a lot. “Just having a space to hang out for food is nice,” says Lily. “[This] is something that should continue as we are still new and getting used to campus.” 

Despite this, both Malvika and Sawyer note the difficulty in getting this event going. Sawyer reflects on his personal struggles trying to work with the administration to gain the ability for him and Malvika to pull this off. “We started to do this at least a month ago… we were emailing a lot of administrators and no one was really getting back to me. The ones who did didn’t even really give any answers.” 

Thankfully, things fell into place: the stars aligned, the lost puzzle piece under the couch was found, and in the last two weeks, “things went pretty fast.” 

The delay paid off in the end. “[The administration was] helpful,” Malvika states, “but the bureaucracy of the process—the sending emails, waiting for replies” was frustrating. 

One student even mentions her initial anxiety surrounding the activity. “I was afraid at first; I thought it was a school-organized event. When I found out it wasn’t, I was like ‘yeah I’ll do it’.” Students have shied away from administration and “school organized” activities across the board.

Others cite a gap in communication between them and the administration. “I feel like I do not know when the admin is actually doing stuff. So being approached by Sawyer about this event was the thing that really got me. That was really enticing.”

Sawyer and Malvika attest that the administration itself could do more; it is their job after all, and “just putting in the time to think of creative ways to produce socially distanced events like this,” one student states would be enough, while promoting vibrant activities across the different houses with some sense of normalcy. 

Even with the COVID complications, they were able to “put this together” relatively easy and in a short amount of time; a month and a half of hurdling over red tape, finding the proper pieces, and turning the cogs of bureaucracy, before a swift and graceful flight over the last two weeks to bring the idea to fruition. 

In the end, things worked out, and the future looks bright, and now is the best time to create this positivity. Malvika states, “In a few months, it’s going to start snowing, and everyone is going to be restricted to the house again… now is the time to socialize while we can.”

Sawyer and Malvika see more events like this in the future—and several others cite an interest in seeing this happen—as long as they are events for students, by students. 
When this happens, we come together not as floating names within the dark confines of a Zoom screen, but as students, peers, people, companions, scholars, and friends. We transcend the limits of fear and anxiety, all while providing accommodating means of doing so, and shine a flaming torch through the dark labyrinth of a tumultuous present.

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