What new UC Berkeley students need to know about fall 2020

A panel of UC Berkeley staff discussed the new student student experience in a livestreamed conversation Wednesday evening. (UC Berkeley video)

Each year, it’s a UC Berkeley tradition to welcome incoming students with a plethora of live tours, outings, information sessions, artistic performances and resource fairs that help connect new Golden Bears to each other and to a campus known for its palpable exuberance.

Enter COVID-19.

The global pandemic has turned normal routines upside down in nearly every aspect of life — including back-to-school time on campus, when Golden Bear Orientation typically offers new freshmen and transfer students the mother of all welcomes.

This fall, however, these action-packed activities will be online, campus officials said during the third of four Campus Conversations, in which housing, instruction and supporting the student experience were addressed. But they assured students listening to the livestreamed event that there will be no shortage of fun and information sharing as the semester starts.

“So many of us have been working tirelessly to prepare for your arrival online and to offer you something meaningful,” said Lorena Valdez, director of transfer programs. “We will do our utmost to make sure you are seen, heard and valued.”

On Wednesday, Valdez was part of the panel, “The Student Experience: Newly Admitted Undergraduates,” that included Micki Antovich, assistant dean of students and director of new student services, and Samuel Santos, assistant vice chancellor and associate dean of students.

The hourlong discussion revolved around questions ranging from what student life will look like on a campus that’s gone virtual to tips on how students can get acquainted, whether they’re living in their hometowns around the world or social distancing in the residence halls.

Santos said Berkeley’s 9,000 new students should prepare for a very different experience than the one they might have planned for pre-COVID-19. The campus has transitioned to fully remote learning for the start of fall semester and, except for some research spaces, campus buildings, including the libraries, the Recreational Sports Facility and Sproul Hall, will be closed. Events, such as plays and concerts have been cancelled through the end of 2020.

Antovich added that virtually all the services and classes typically offered within campus buildings and other facilities have moved online, and that staff fully intend to offer top-notch service to all comers.

“You do not have to be on campus to take advantage of these opportunities,” Antovich said. “You won’t miss anything. There are no secret or hidden events, I promise you.”

The three campus officials underscored the importance of students weighing their personal safety and well-being during the COVID-19 crisis against their desire to live and learn on campus.

“I understand the fear of missing out,” Santos said. “But we’re discouraging students from coming to campus unless they absolutely need to come, or (unless) it’s their best housing option.”

For those who do plan to come to campus, move-in dates should be posted by next week, said Santos, who added those who want to change the housing decisions they’ve made previously should immediately contact the campus’s residential life office.