Online Classes vs. In-Person: How Has Bellevue College’s Community Changed?

Photo by kyo azuma from Unsplash.

The pandemic has shifted many things in our lives, including the growing community of Bellevue College. Only shortly into Winter quarter 2020, Bellevue College, which was traditionally a thriving in-person experience, was forced to go fully online. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t given our wonderful community an easy time. For nearly two whole years, Bellevue College was taught nearly fully remotely, with complete access to the campus only being restored three weeks prior to the writing of this article. Bellevue College is a resilient community, but naturally, the pandemic has warped it just as it has every other aspect of our lives. I want to take some time to look at how the campus feels now, compared to how it felt prior to the series of lockdowns.

Sidd Rao was a Bellevue College student who graduated during the pandemic. Since getting his Associates in Arts and Sciences, he is attending the University of Washington. When reflecting on his year at BC before the lockdown, he “found it to be quite lively. I remember there being quite a few events and there being a real sense of doing stuff together.” The campus was bustling with activity, with people all over the place. 

Freya Vayman, who is currently a running start student attending Bellevue College, first enrolled back in the Fall 2021 quarter. Though she started fully online, she is now taking in-person classes at BC for winter quarter and plans to take more for Spring 2022. After going to the BC campus for the first time earlier this quarter, she noticed it was difficult for the previously well-integrated community to fit the pieces back together. “I definitely didn’t feel much community there,” she explains. “I think maybe it’s just that people are shy; I know I was shy coming to the campus for the first time, [especially] after not speaking to anybody [in-person] for a while.”

After switching to online, Rao lamented the loss of the community-driven events on campus. “I would say it definitely did change, though it might have just been my perspective as I was not able to [see] the crowds. I also feel like there was definitely a decrease in events. [Previously], we could [do] a lot more stuff that just isn’t possible online.” 

I am currently a running start student who started at the same time as Vayman, and had a sibling who attended during the same years as Rao. By contrasting these experiences, I think that Rao’s described feeling of ‘togetherness’ in the community is the biggest thing we lost during the time that BC was fully online. The community was able to stay bonded, because, well, they were all truly together. They all shared the same beautiful campus, arriving and exiting from classes into an evolving community. Though Vayman was able to connect with her peers online and was satisfied with her ability to connect with classmates over platforms like email, Bellevue College student-run Discord servers, and more, I think those options lacked the X factor that only sharing the community space with others can provide. As Rao puts it, “it was a really cool community and people, from the professors to the other students, were really helpful and enjoyable to be around … I really preferred in-person [classes] for the community aspect.”

I am pleased that the college administration has taken plenty of time and used an abundance of caution in getting us back in person. During Vayman’s first week back, she said that she “felt extremely safe.” Due to the size of the campus, everyone was very spread out and everyone Vayman interacted with was masked, in accordance with Bellevue College’s policy to help stop the spread. While having a thriving community is important, so too is the student body’s safety. The once-bustling and crowded campus may take some time to return to its former glory, I have confidence that with outstanding community members such as Vayman there to assist in the new community’s construction, we’ll see one built in the coming years that students will look back on as fondly as Rao looks back on his own time at Bellevue College.