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When I started college at a small, liberal arts university in Connecticut, the quad was the main gathering place. The quad drew students from every corner of the campus, especially in the fall when the leaves turned orange and red.

My roommate and I would head over to the quad each afternoon to watch the Ultimate Frisbee teams and hear the strumming of a lone guitar player. Sometimes, students read textbooks lounging on the grass but we were just taking a break to enjoy the afternoon sun before dinner and studying.

The quad was the first stop on campus tours and the hub for nearly everything. Decades later when I took each of our kids to visit some college campuses, we headed straight to the quad. That’s where our first impressions came from and where we got a glimpse of the daily life of students. Since the 1800’s, the quad has served as the symbol for the culture and the ambiance of each college with its photos displayed on college websites and Instagram pages. By definition, a quadrangle is a four-sided courtyard surrounded by buildings. The word quad is derived from the Latin root ‘quadri’ or ‘four’ and is most commonly used in the profession of architecture and the world of higher education.

These days, the quads are quieter than ever. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, nearly every university has instituted a six-foot social distance rule and limited the size of groups allowed on the quad. Soon after students moved to campus, photos shared on social media reflected whether students were following the rules or flaunting them and videos pointed out which kids weren’t in compliance.

TikTok spread videos of large parties around campuses, while some students reported those who violated the rules. On one campus, students started a petition to suspend a TikTok influencer who bragged about going to a big party. On another campus, students called for the administration to close sororities and fraternities to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Instead of discussing sports, students are debating the ethics of reporting violations to campus security or posting details on Reddit. Newspapers in college towns spread such news even farther adding fuel to the fire. On a daily basis, campus websites indicate the numbers of students tested and the percentages who test positive. Many students are required to use a mobile app each day as a COVID-19 screening tool. One example is the Dr. ChatBot app which prompts students to answer questions: In the past 24 hours, have you had any symptoms such as severe fatigue, fever, chills, etc.? Have you had close contact with someone confirmed to be positive in the last 14 days? It only takes a minute to complete the daily Dr. ChatBot, which is part of the campus routine these days.

For many college students, the new routine is remote education. Taking classes online from home or from a dorm is as common as sitting in a classroom. Some professors teach from home or rotate with an occasional class in person on campus and most office hours or study sessions take place on Zoom. It’s likely to stay this way for a long time, perhaps many years, depending on the situation with the pandemic. For campuses with in-person classes, faculty members are using every available classroom and lab space including gyms, auditoriums, and performance halls to allow for social distancing.

For Fall 2021 admissions, many colleges and universities have dropped the requirement to submit ACT, SAT, or GRE scores and other changes will take place as well. Future students will look for a college based on its academic quality and not on its geographic appeal, athletic ranking, or social life even more than in the past. The guiding question in higher education remains “What are we really paying for?”

In the meantime, let’s expect students to get the most out of every learning opportunity, whether they’re on a campus or online, sitting on the grass on the quad or using Zoom. We’ll remember 2020 as the year that the quad was replaced by Zoom. At least Zoom has more than one square to hang out in.

Julie Richman is a freelance writer, project manager and consultant. She and her family have lived on Colorado Springs’ northeast side for 21 years. Contact Julie with comments or ideas for her column at woodmennotes@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

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