Opinion | What is the in-person experience at Pitt like?

By Jack Troy, Opinions Editor

Over the course of my first year at Pitt, I had a grand total of one in-person class. Even then, it was only partially in-person — more lectures were held over Zoom than not. Based on the couple hundred times I’ve heard people say how bad they feel about my first-year experience being virtual, this is a tragedy.

Honestly, I didn’t mind it. You simply can’t beat rolling out of bed two minutes before class and still making it there on time. Assuming we’ll be in person this fall, accounting for the time it takes to go to and from class is going to be a brutal adjustment.

But I can’t deny that my tiny slice of ordinary class was enjoyable. Or, at the very least, it reminded me that I was missing out on something — not that I can reliably pinpoint that something. I struggle to articulate what I was missing because, even though I am entering my sophomore year, I still don’t know what the Pitt experience is like.

Most glaringly, I haven’t survived a full schedule of in-person classes. Are these harder than Zoom classes? My guess is that, in some respects, yes. Unfortunately, you can’t turn your camera off, put your feet up and scroll through Twitter when everyone is physically sitting in the same room. Nor can you duck out when the time comes for breakout rooms, or whatever the in-person equivalent of those may be. Or maybe you can, how would I know?

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I’m not even sure if I’m comfortable offering advice about the classes I have taken, albeit virtually. Some of my professors were extremely sympathetic and likely went easy on us. Many opted for essays and smaller assignments over high-stakes tests, whether out of the goodness of their hearts or an acknowledgment that every remote test can easily be made open note. 

Others were struggling to simply put one virtual foot in front of the other to make it through the extremely online year, so I can’t help but wonder what effect that had on the quality and difficulty of the course. My guess is that they were both lowered. 

Dining was also a very unusual experience, something I didn’t fully grasp until I talked with The Pitt News’ resident Perch fanatic Jon Moss. Turns out, food isn’t ordinarily served from behind plexiglass and then consumed at a dorm room desk. 

If I had a dollar for every time I ate a veggie burger under a desk light while watching — and I’m not proud to admit this — “Family Guy” clips, I’d have a nice chunk of change. It’s a foregone conclusion that my class is going to have far less eventful first-year stories to tell. 

During the time it was available, not once did I book a reservation at a Pitt dining hall. I suppose this is my own fault, but booking a Perch date never quite seemed like the move. Given that I’ve decided to move off campus this year, this strange, limited capacity experience is likely the only one I’ll ever get.

I also have collected absolutely no new knowledge about Pitt sports. I’ve maintained my low baseline through a combination of apathy and an assumption that few spectators were allowed at games. I’ll likely attend at least one football game this year, so hopefully I can expand my knowledge of Pitt football traditions beyond “Sweet Caroline.” 

It’s also worth noting how few in-person experiences I’ve had with clubs and organizations. There’s a story often told at The Pitt News, which I dispute the accuracy of, about how I didn’t know we had a physical office until I interviewed for this position. 

I will admit to having, outside of several summer production nights with a tiny crew of editors, never attended an extracurricular meeting in person. I’m very much looking forward to ditching Zoom, though accounting for travel time will also be a challenge here. 

There were plenty of other things that I missed out on or had some diluted experience with. Some I’ll hopefully get my fair share of this time around, others were kind of a one shot deal. There were trips to a half capacity Hillman — though, in a way it’ll be half capacity once again this year — and uniquely 2020 moments like flicking on my little plastic candle for Lantern Night. 

There were also plenty of robbed social experiences. By the time I could have visitors in my dorm, many of my friends had understandably opted to spend the spring semester at home. And any spontaneous social energy that existed on my floor was snuffed out after some poor RAs had to bring down the social distancing hammer on us. That little hallway get-together — which happened during my first or second week on campus — was the last time I interacted with at least half of my floor. 

I’m assuming many other sophomores feel the same way. Robbed? Shortchanged? Yes, especially when it comes to the tuition bill. I know and love Pitt, even if it’s not in the same exact way that juniors, seniors and alums do. But I am — fingers crossed — hoping to learn all about the proper, in-person experience this year. 

Jack Troy writes about politics, SGB and being tired of capitalism. Write to him at [email protected].