A Pandemic Semester

Catrina Chen ’21 and Lydia Gramstad ’22
Author  Alice M. Hummer
Published on 

Unlike many of her fellow seniors who were studying remotely, Catrina Chen ’21 spent the fall on campus serving as house president of Claflin. Lydia Gramstad ’22, on the other hand, spent the semester in Paris, having decided to go ahead with study abroad. We invited the two of them to give us a glimpse into their very different lives during the pandemic.

This is an excerpt from an article edited by Alice M. Hummer that appears in the winter 2021 issue of “Wellesley” magazine. Read the full story on the “Wellesley” magazine website.

Catrina Chen ’21
House President, Claflin
Hometown: Los Gatos, Calif.
Major: International relations with an emphasis on economics

What is it like to be a house president this year?
This position is about advocating for, defending, and celebrating students throughout their time at Wellesley. For the residents of Claflin, I hope that they leave more empowered in their own beliefs and convictions than they came in. I hope they learn to trust in and lean on their community, and find some corner of Wellesley that they know as home.

The essence of the HP job has persisted through COVID but has evolved to fit the new needs of our communities. Instead of trying to maximize the number of students that attend a program, having room capacities set at 10 people has allowed us to redefine success around one-on-one connections. It hasn’t been completely smooth—this year has required more mental and emotional investment from the residential team than ever before. RAs [resident assistants] and HPs are still grappling with how to walk the line between prioritizing the health of the community without policing or judgment. But I think there is an understanding, in Claflin at least, that this endeavor to keep COVID out of our community requires teamwork, and I have been very proud of our residents’ commitment.

What kind of events have you done in your hall?
I like to think that the Claflin community is supported by the RAs and the HP, but that ultimately it is led by its residents. My res team and I look for ways to empower our residents to share their passions with the rest of Claflin by leading their own events, calling on us for logistical and administrative backup when needed. Claflin residents have hosted embroidery events and dance parties during fall break, a socially distanced (and truly scary) haunted house at Halloween, as well as an intricate and thoughtful murder mystery event at our weekly tea. Residents care about their events, about the people who attend, about the fun they have. They go to each other’s programs and support one another. As a result, I have had the honor of attending vibrant and joyful events that are resident-driven and that the five-person res life team could never replicate. My greatest pride is the sense of ownership that Claflin residents feel toward their building and the community inside.

Lydia Gramstad ’22
Abroad at American University of Paris
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
Major: Urban studies

How did you end up in Paris mid-pandemic?
I was supposed to be studying abroad in Copenhagen this semester, but my program was canceled in July, so I scrambled to secure a place at another program. Before I left the States, several people told me it was ridiculous to study abroad during a pandemic, but I honestly felt that it would be safer to live in Europe since the general population is better at complying with preventative measures. I arrived in France in early September, and I will be heading home in mid-December.

What attracted you to American University of Paris?
Part of [the reason] I chose to study at AUP is the courses they offer that are meant to immerse students in the city. I’m taking two art history courses, one of which normally meets almost exclusively in Paris museums. The other had several museum visits scheduled throughout the semester. I’m also taking an immersive English course on Parisian literature that until the lockdown here included biweekly walking tours to parts of the city described in the works we’re reading. It has been truly incredible to discuss the Venus de Milo or the Code of Hammurabi while standing directly in front of them, and it has added so much to my experience of Parisian literature to walk around the places described in them.