The ongoing pandemic has taken a bite out of the excitement of being a new college student, experiencing the first day on campus, joining societies and going to fresher parties and festivals

With Delhi University (DU) taking its classes and the admissions process completely online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usually bustling Vishwavidyalaya metro station wears a deserted look, the lanes of the now sparsely populated North Campus are empty, the once jam-packed canteens are closed and the popular hang-out spaces are quiet.

The university campus, which is usually abuzz with activity in the run-up to a new session as excited freshers mill around with their guardians, is eerily silent.

DU released its first cut-off list on October 10 and admissions began two days later. Classes are scheduled to begin from November 18 but many new students rue that the pandemic has delayed their experience of “campus life” and first day of college.

Speaking about the “magic of campus”, Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College student Riddhi Mukherjee said: “With the Board exams being cut short, admissions to colleges were postponed for months on end and no classes were held on campus. This year has been fairly difficult for us. I have always wanted to go to LSR and I have heard so much about the magic of campus, the societies and the cafes. My dream has come true but everything has been put on hold now, along with moving to another city and living independently for the first time.”

No buzz

Students also seemed disappointed with the possibility of freshers-welcome events not taking place or going online.

“Our seniors and teachers are trying to help us feel at home, organising online activities and having a welcome week online, which is really nice. All in all, it is bittersweet to enter the next chapter of our lives in this way,” said Ms. Mukherjee.

Simran Anand, who will be joining the BA (Programme) course at Ramjas College, said: “I was looking forward to having a good campus life in DU. We have been told that there is a possibility that a freshers event may be held online but we do not know what will materialise.”

Students also rued missing out on joining the various societies that colleges in DU offer and participating in festivals.

Aahuti Singh, a resident of Chandigarh who has taken admission in Vivekananda College, said: “The first day is always exciting, especially coming to a new environment. I was really looking forward to the freshers party, meeting the faculty and joining the dance society. But with the ongoing pandemic it is probably a good idea to not visit campus immediately.”

Expectations, glitches

Rayan Chakrabarti, who has joined the English Department at St. Stephen’s College, said: “The expectations started going down during the Board exams itself as the situation became quite turbulent. I applied to DU hoping to meet and interact with people from various backgrounds. I am disheartened as I will not be able to go to campus and participate in festivals. I was looking forward to being a part of the poetry, debate and music society apart from the Gandhi-Ambedkar society.”

Some students also complained of certain glitches during the admission process like non-redressal of grievances.

“During the admission process the nodal officers were not responsive. At times, the webinars would end abruptly. Honestly, we are still quite confused about certain procedures such as selection of subjects, among other things. Visiting colleges and physical open days are definitely better options, which we unfortunately missed out on this year,” said Ms. Anand.

Hard times

The junction opposite Patel Chest Institute, which boasts a row of shops frequented by students, especially those about to sit for exams, also wears a deserted look with shopkeepers saying they have suffered major losses.

Umesh Tyagi, who has been running a photocopy shop in the area for the last 18 years, said: “The situation has never been this difficult. Our shops would always be buzzing with students, but now we are in a situation where we are having to pay rent from our savings. This is the exam season and students would be packed in our shops, but now we are down to almost no income. At this point luck is all we are depending on.”

Ramjas college professor Tanvir Aeijaz said, “The university is crying at the moment because what is a university without its students and teachers.”

“Even though it is much easier to take classes from home, that is not what teaching is about. You need people and interactions. There is always second-guessing in teaching and one needs to see the reactions of the students. Online classes are a setback to teaching and is certainly a demotivating factor. Students are not happy. Often, students discuss lectures after classes. They are unable to do this anymore. The university is emptier than it is even during vacation period as hostels are also empty,” he added.

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