Campus Diaries: “Things were feeling so much more relaxed. Then Omicron hit”

Campus Diaries: “Things were feeling so much more relaxed. Then Omicron hit”

Memoirs from the weirdest university year ever

Photo by Claudine Baltazar

Who: Lauren Breslin, 19
What: Genetics and biochemistry, second year
Western University
Hometown: Toronto

The Campus Diaries

I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since I dissected a frog in middle school. I’m interested in Alzheimer’s research, so I’ve been volunteering at the Alzheimer’s Society in London. My plan is to apply to med school after undergrad.

Starting university in the fall of 2020, before vaccines, was definitely a bummer. My friends and I were worried about having to move home if there was an outbreak in residence, so we opted for an apartment off campus. I basically didn’t leave it for the first few months: no frosh week, no bars, nothing.

I’m now in second year and, at least until Omicron, the bars were open and people were hosting house parties. Through the fall and early winter, there was something going on every night of the week, but I’m pretty busy with school, so I would mostly go out on the weekends. Typically we’d go to a bar near our place—the Ceeps or Jack’s. It’s crazy how early the lineups started: by 7 p.m. they were running up the block. I guess maybe it takes a bit more time for security to check vaccine passports, which is totally cool, but it kind of sucks having to head out before it gets dark.

At the beginning of the year, there was this feeling of What are we allowed to do? Is it okay to take your mask off at the table? Can we dance? Things loosened up as we got further into the fall, but then there was also all the stuff with the sexual assaults on campus during Orientation Week. It’s not like I wasn’t aware of that risk, and that Western has a reputation for being a party school, but after stories spread about students being drugged in residence, and another student was killed just off campus, things became scary. The cops were everywhere in those first few weeks. My mom bought me a whistle to wear, and among my group of girlfriends, it’s understood that you never put your drink down. When people come up to visit from other schools, you have to remind them. I guess at this point it’s just a reality that we live with—sort of like Covid.

This fall, it was really great just to be able to go out and have a good time with friends, dancing, ordering food when we got home. It’s nothing extraordinary, but after last year, these are the moments that we missed. We went to a few massive dance parties where they took all the furniture out of the house to give people room to move around. Things were feeling so much more relaxed. Then Omicron hit, but that was when finals were starting, so people stopped going out anyway.

Online school technically works, I guess, but in genetics and biochem, there’s really no substitute for getting to do labs in person. Physically performing the experiments instead of just watching someone else do it on a screen makes a big difference. Virtual classes really bum me out, but I know that not everyone feels that way. Some of my friends love doing school from their beds.

This story appears in the February 2022 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe for just $24.99 a year, click here.