When the Class of 2024 arrived on the Southwestern Adventist University campus in August 2020, they stepped into a university experience unlike previous classes. Due to COVID-19, SWAU had moved classes online the previous semester and was now reopening its campus with accommodations in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of faculty, staff and students. These included daily temperature checks and screenings, mandatory masks on campus and physically distanced events, in addition to providing a combination of online, on-campus and hybrid classes.
While this semester has required some adjustments from everyone on campus, students have settled into life at SWAU well and have even thrived, becoming involved in various aspects of the campus experience, from clubs to sports to dorm life. Three freshmen who have felt the positive impact of being a student of SWAU during this time are Genesis Santos-Guzman, Esteban Deku and Keith Barrow.
Genesis Santos-Guzman often gets asked if she had a difficult first semester, but she had a really great experience and feels that SWAU did an excellent job at making accommodations and providing a good experience for students. “I wasn’t able to go to church while I was in Florida, and that is one of my favorite things to do. During my first week at SWAU, when someone mentioned there would be church on Sabbath, I was surprised, but it was so well-done. I loved going to vespers every week and participating in the spiritual life activities on campus. That was something I had missed.”
The Keene Church, which is the location for the weekly Friday Night Vespers program reopened its doors for church services when students returned to campus, with a myriad of accommodations in place. There were markers to indicate where people should sit to maintain distance, and the building was cleaned between every single gathering. Spiritual programming is a large part of life on campus, so making it possible for students to continue experiencing these programs allowed for a relatively normal and Christ-centered semester.
Esteban Deku, who chose to attend SWAU in large part because of its spiritual environment, now works in the Office of Spiritual Development. In addition to attending and participating in spiritual life events, he has been part of a volleyball team for intramurals, is treasurer for the Pre-Health Professionals Club and serves on the Student Senate. He has also found a second home in the residence hall. With masks and daily screenings as part of the norm throughout the semester, Deku felt comfortable participating in a variety of activities and consistently pushing himself to be social.
Keith Barrow, mathematics/secondary education major from Maryland, can almost always be found at on-campus events. He joined the cross-country team, vespers committee and Rough Writers, the creative writing club on campus. Taking hybrid classes was an adjustment for him, but he has a large appreciation for the professors at SWAU, who have been helpful and flexible during this unusual semester. He shares, “SWAU has been a major blessing. It has allowed me to grow as a person. SWAU has given me opportunities to be a leader, to get to know myself better and to put myself out there more. I’m so glad I chose to come to SWAU.”
Each of these students has taken advantage of many of the academic, social and spiritual growth opportunities available on the SWAU campus, and there are more beyond those in which these students have been involved. This semester might look different, with masks and daily screenings, as well as smaller events, but that has not limited the number of opportunities available to students at Southwestern Adventist University. In fact, in some cases, as Santos-Guzman shares, “It’s made the experience even better.”