Students’ resilience pays off as normalcy returns to Baylor

Brittany Tankersley | Photographer

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

After a year and a half of online classes, virtual events and social distancing, the Baylor campus was able to return to some sense of normalcy this semester. With the number of vaccinations rising and the number of COVID-19 cases falling among the student body, in-person classes and events returned. Students were finally able to fill the stands at McLane Stadium and the Ferrell Center again to cheer on the Bears.

However, the semester was not without its share of challenges; a number of COVID-19 protocols still needed to be observed. Masks were still required in classrooms and labs, and unvaccinated students were required to get tested every week. Baylor’s largest freshman class ever filled the dorms to the brim, forcing Baylor to place some students in a hotel, which was dubbed “Cityside.”

Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman said via email the Baylor campus was able to manage COVID-19 well due to the diligence of the Baylor community in following health guidelines. Fogleman said the Baylor community did not place an additional strain on local health care services and could have in-person activities.

“While many other universities had to curtail in-person activities because of COVID-19, the actions taken by our students, faculty, staff and others have kept our cases manageable and our campus healthy and fully open with classes and all of our events and tradition-rich activities at 100% capacity,” Fogleman said.

Matt Burchett, the senior director of Student Activities, said Baylor events and traditions are “distinctive characteristics” that bring the Baylor family together. Burchett said the student body responded with grace, patience and understanding to many events and traditions taking different forms or being canceled over the last year.

“This semester has been marked by this cumulative effect of all that we felt like we’ve missed and lost during the pandemic — has come back in this really beautiful way that even I couldn’t have anticipated,” Burchett said. “I love that enthusiasm. I love the commitment. By and large, we believed in Baylor; we stuck by Baylor and now receive some of the fruits of that patience and that grace. I’ve just been blown away about how our students have just gone back to where they always had been.”

Hoffman Estates, Ill., senior and Student Government external vice president Zach Tufenkjian said a feeling of community has been missing since Baylor went online due to the pandemic. He said Student Government is proud of the student body’s resilience throughout the pandemic and how students responded to the challenges the pandemic posed and continues to bring.

“Look at the way that students have been interacting with each other and helping each other and supporting one another,” Tufenkjian said. “It’s been very empowering and inspiring — not only to myself but to Student Government. As a collective, our student body has been very unified and truly inspiring in supporting and providing an understanding to the administration and to its fellow students and to health care professionals on how we should approach this year.”

Tufenkjian said the branches of Student Government tried to provide a “unified approach” to uplift and support students through the “rejuvenation and recovery” from the pandemic.

“[Student Government] has been working to understand how we move forward as an organization, not just for short-term goals but also for long-term goals as well,” Tufenkjian said. “How do we ensure that the work of today continues tomorrow? How do we carry on this momentum and this resilience that we’ve seen this year and the year before into the next year and the year after that so that we can have bigger and better events, better understanding and a better culture, which has already been so great so far?”

Apart from a return to normalcy, many other instances made this semester noteworthy as Baylor continues to move toward the future. The Board of Regents affirmed the five-year framework of Illuminate, setting the stage for Baylor to grow as it continues on track to potentially receive Carnegie R1 designation in 2024. The next five years of Illuminate will see the hiring of 100 new faculty members, renovations to residence halls and other buildings and the completion of the Give Light campaign. Additionally, Baylor announced its plan this semester to form an official LGBTQ student group on campus — something that students have been asking for for years.

Burchett said there are still many things to look forward to as the semester finishes.

“We’re not quite finished yet,” Burchett said. “The hope here is that we have an incredible Christmas on Fifth Street, great Midnight Breakfast as we get into finals and obviously, a bowl game is on the horizon. As much as we begin to see finality in this semester, there’s still a lot of things to anticipate and look forward to. There is so much to look forward to as the spring semester begins to take shape. My hope is that our students rest well, finish strong and begin to anticipate with great enthusiasm what is to come.”