After 105 students graduated from Emory’s Oxford College last fall, a semester earlier than the rest of their peers, some students reported feelings of isolation and a loss of their sense of community during the virtual spring start to classes on the Atlanta campus.

Oxford students normally matriculate to the Atlanta campus after two years, but since at least 2004, the University has allowed students to leave the campus a semester early if they complete the requirements in time, said Oxford College Assistant Vice Provost and Dean of Enrollment Services Kelley Lips. In the past four years, the number of early graduates has averaged around 100 students each fall, with a record number of 123 early graduates in the fall of 2018. 

“While we want Oxford to be a two-year experience—because that’s how the program is structured really—some students want to move through that faster and, for whatever reasons, want to start their Emory education on the Atlanta campus sooner and so that’s available for them,” Lips said.

Feelings of isolation

Faiz Darredia (22Ox, 24C) said that transitioning to the Atlanta campus during virtual learning was “extremely difficult,” with some of his friends still at home, some on the Atlanta campus and the rest on the Oxford campus. 

“It’s been pretty difficult to get social interaction or meet new people on campus,” Darredia said. “Everyone just sort of goes to the dining hall, gets their food and goes back to their room. It’s sort of reminiscent of fall 2020.”

Oxford early graduates remarked on how isolating the Atlanta campus felt in the first two weeks of virtual classes. (Anoushka Parameswar)

Others remarked on how isolating the campus felt during the virtual start to the spring semester. Dan Dan (22Ox, 24C) said the transition from Oxford’s culture to the Atlanta campus’ was jarring.

“I was kind of shocked [about] the community bonding sense: it does not exist here on the Atlanta campus,” Dan said. “I’m not sure whether it’s just because not many people are here yet or it’s just the general Atlanta campus, but I feel like it’s more like everybody’s focused on their own self and study, so there isn’t much community building.” 

Draws to Atlanta

Sanjana Kunnikuru (22Ox, 24C), a pre-med early graduate, said that she decided to move to the Atlanta campus earlier in part due to the increased potential to get involved in research. 

“There’s so many more hospital volunteering, clinical opportunities and research labs  that I could get involved in,” Kunnikuru said. “That was the main reason that I decided to graduate early.”

Along with these opportunities, Kunnikuru cited her experience on the Oxford campus in fall 2020, amid height of campus COVID-19 restrictions, as one factor that contributed to her decision to graduate early.

“It was really disconnected then,” Kunnikuru said. “I didn’t get the opportunity to make many friends, so I switched to online learning for my second semester.” 

After deciding last August to graduate from Oxford that fall, Kunnikuru served as an orientation leader at Oxford and said the experience made her question her decision to move to Atlanta for the spring semester.

“When I decided to graduate early, I didn’t know how close I would get to Oxford,” Kunnikuru said. “I didn’t really expect to have so many friends and feel so connected to the community.”

While Kunnikuru, who started her semester from home, is still not completely content with her decision, she said she’s looking forward to the opportunities the campus promises.

Darredia, Dan and Claire Qu (22Ox, 24C), meanwhile, are all living off campus this semester. Qu said that being a sophomore living off campus has caused her to feel “imposter syndrome.”

“I have sort of a junior status,” Qu said. “Almost all the sophomores are living on campus, so there might be a different experience there. I feel like an imposter living in my own apartment and then going to campus.”

Lack of University communication

While Darredia and Dan have received a separate orientation for the business school, Qu said that she paid a $75 fee for orientation but did not receive communication from the University about delays due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Director of Orientation and New Student Programs Jill Camper said that the fee covers ATLBound, a program designed to connect Oxford sophomores transition to the Atlanta campus. 

The program sent Atlanta staff to the Oxford campus 11 times last fall and will send staff again this spring to meet with students. ATLBound also includes a Canvas course with information about the transition from the Oxford campus to the Atlanta campus, Camper said. 

“ATLBound has had many different iterations over the years as we continually try to adapt to the changing needs of our students,” Camper told the Wheel in an email. “The feedback we received is that students would prefer for Atlanta [resources] to visit Oxford, so we have leaned into that model this year.”

Camper said that Oxford early graduates will receive an invitation “soon” for a welcome event in February. The event, which was originally scheduled for January but delayed because of the remote start to the spring semester, aims to introduce students to staff and student leaders on the Atlanta campus. 

An Oxford Welcome and Resource Fair, which was also originally scheduled to take place in January, will be held in April.

Adjusting to academics

Some students also reported that they have needed to adjust to different classroom styles on the campus. Qu, for example, said that her classes at Oxford had followed a flipped-classroom method, where class time consisted mostly of discussion, while her Atlanta classes were mostly structured in the traditional lecture format, making it more difficult to participate and connect with professors. 

One of Oxford College’s academic buildings, Humanities Hall. (Oxford College)

Other students remarked on being surprised by the sheer number of people in their classes. While Oxford caps a majority of classes at 25 students, Kunnikuru expressed concerns about Atlanta’s larger classes, citing that her CHEM 204 class had 150 students: “I won’t be able to connect with teachers unless I go to their office hours.” 

While Darredia said he doesn’t regret choosing to graduate from Oxford early, he said he now wishes he’d appreciated the small-college environment more when he was there, calling his decision to spend his first three undergraduate semesters at Oxford “one of the best decisions” he has ever made. 

“Whether it be having to be more involved in academics or just the pressures will start amounting, I feel like the community that you get at Oxford would just be unmatched anywhere else,” Darredia said. “Many people want to get away, but I think you have to sort of value those moments when you’re with your friends, when you’re laughing, when you’re at the dining hall, because here, it’s like everyone’s on their own paths.”

Correction (2/6/2022 at 3:40 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Claire Qu’s experience transitioning from the Oxford to Atlanta campus was isolating and “extremely difficult.” The story has been corrected to more accurately portray her experience.