By Alice Martin
On 15 February 2021, Florian Breault walks down the empty halls of the once lively Dawson College. That day, Florian reluctantly attends in-person classes for the first time. Although he has been a Dawson student for two semesters now, this occasion is only the fourth time Florian steps on school grounds. “When was the last time I got out of my chair to wander in a school corridor?,” he asks himself, heading towards what he thinks is the correct hall, in a college he still isn’t sure he belongs to.
On 13 March, Dawson students “celebrated” a year of online school, while many first-year students have yet to experience a single class on campus. Even as Florian walked through the door of room 3B.1, thousands of less-lucky Dawson students were still logging into LEA, 30 seconds before class time.
For a college like Dawson, which prides itself on creating community between students, what happens when the campus is deserted? Even if Dawson students have been known, over the years, to be fiercely loyal, to “bleed blue”, this attitude doesn’t appear to be the case for first-year students.
Chanel Bach, second-semester student in Arts, Literature and Communications hasn’t attended in-person classes at the college yet. She defends a lack of attachment to the college, “I don’t even know what the school looks like, most of the students in my classes have their cameras off. Basically, what school is, is that you get assignments, you turn them in, and you go on with your life.” She also points out that “it is not Dawson’s fault, it’s the pandemic’s fault.”
Florian Breault, also in ALC, feels the same, “You’re not going to Dawson; you’re going to classes. It’s like you’re teleporting.”
To them, the one part they’ve looked forward to, the campus, is also the aspect missing from their college experience. Coincidentally, it’s through campus activities that you develop a bond with your college. When asked about what they knew about the Virtual Campus set in place by Campus Life and Leadership, both of them were surprised, at first, that there even was a virtual campus. “As long as you are not forced to talk to people, no one will make the effort. People get used to situations really easily and the more you stay inside the more you isolate yourself,” mentions Chanel. “Going to virtual campus activities means for me to get out of my comfort zone,” says Florian, who describes in-person classes as also taking him out of his “comfort zone”.
But who can blame them? Billi Jo Poirier of Campus Life and Leadership agrees, “The big difference [between a physical and a virtual campus] is the connection. Being on a screen all day long, the students may not want to get back on again for extracurricular activities.”
Billi Jo Poirier works at the department of Campus Life and Leadership alongside Michelle Lee, both of whom work as Recreational Activities Technicians. They also work closely with Gianna Smith, Administrative Support Agent. “[Campus Life and Leadership’s] mission is to engage with students whether it be through recreational, sociocultural and educational activities and engage them within their own leadership, throughout volunteering and through the activities that we offer,” says Billi Jo.
Over the last year, CLL has been radically changing their whole way of doing things to continue connecting students to each other and the college through various social platforms. But, the real change CLL has been faced with is their level of success. “It has gone down a lot since the pandemic. Before, if we only had ten kids in an activity, we’d be asking ourselves what we did wrong. But online we realized that ten is a great number. It’s not the student’s fault, they’re just not answering the call. We just want to know what you need, and we will be here for you”, says Billi Jo. She also showed great compassion towards students and expressed how sad she feels at the quietness of the school when she works at the Welcome Desk.
Being in a physical campus seems critical in order to make that first connection to the college that eventually pushes you to involve yourself. How can you reach out when you don’t really know who you are reaching out to? Maybe closing your last Zoom class is so satisfying that you would never consider reopening it to see what extracurriculars are offered.
And, as Florian Breault checked into the Welcome Desk, he might just have crossed Billi Jo, Michelle, or Gianna’s path without ever knowing the crucial roles they play at Dawson.
Image: Screenshot from @clldawson on Instagram