The pandemic changed a lot of things on campus, but, perhaps most evidently, it changed the overall campus culture. Can we rebuild what once was, or should we cultivate the undefined culture forming this year?

“Why’d you pick APU?” The number of times I’ve heard this question come up in conversations on campus is enormously high. Yet every time — perhaps because of the frequency of which the question comes up — it seems as though people have an answer prepared involving a lengthy story. And oftentimes it seems as though part of the answer is about the campus culture and community at APU.

The stories differ slightly between upperclassmen and lowerclassmen, however.

Upperclassmen tend to reference an APU that “was.” This APU was a lively, exciting campus featuring lots of campus events and a community that students were instantly attracted to. This APU was the campus upperclassmen remember experiencing as freshmen and sophomores. It’s the school they saw on campus tours that eventually led them to pick APU.

Underclassmen, on the other hand, can only point to a post-pandemic APU when they reference its campus culture. When they talk about picking APU for its community, oftentimes the case is that their choices were based merely on stories they’d heard from pre-pandemic students. Rather than experiencing the campus culture firsthand, their conceptions of APU’s community came from others’ experiences. In fact, many underclassmen didn’t even get the chance to step foot on campus until they moved in this past semester.

Having just completed my first semester on campus at APU after a year of remote learning, I’d posit that I have a good feel for the current campus climate. While I still believe that APU’s community and campus culture are special, the culture I’ve experienced doesn’t seem to coincide with the descriptions of pre-pandemic APU I’ve heard from upperclassmen.

Specifically, the culture on campus feels undefined. Compared to the established, lively community upperclassmen describe, APU’s current climate seems unsure of its new functionality in a post-pandemic world — possibly because students that are new to campus aren’t joining an established community but one rebuilding following a year-and-a-half-long hiatus.

So then, the question becomes this: Was APU’s campus culture able to persevere through the pandemic, or is it in need of revamping and rebuilding?

“I don’t think anything’s the same as it was pre-pandemic, and I don’t think we can expect things to go back to the way they were before,” said Meg Sweeney, a junior liberal studies major. “For starters, our campus is fifty percent new students. And while that’s definitely different, there’s still something so special about APU’s campus culture.”

In previous years, new students joining the APU community had three classes of students on campus to exemplify how the community they were joining functioned. There was a continuity of culture from year to year because students shared a common understanding of what APU’s community identity was. That common understanding allowed students to implicitly communicate to newcomers what aspects of campus culture were integral to APU’s community.

Now, as Sweeney stated, half of the undergraduate student population is completely new to campus. Meanwhile, the other half’s durations of on-campus experience range from a little more than a semester to a year-and-a-half.

There is a disconnect in culture from before the pandemic to now because there is a smaller population of students to model APU’s past understanding of campus culture. On top of that, there is less of a common understanding of what APU’s community identity is among those who were here before the pandemic.

Camryn Parrini, a junior communication management major said, “I feel like there is a culture that is in the process of being created, but I don’t feel like it’s established.”

The focus must then become how we as a community go about establishing culture on campus. We can either try to rebuild the culture to look like it once did, or we can cultivate the new one that’s forming in the wake of the pandemic.

Parrini thinks that trying to bring back what the campus culture used to be is impossible. She reasons that too much has occurred in the world as a whole in the past two years for things to be the exact same as they were.

“We can’t try to mirror what it once was because that was such a different time,” said Parrini. “I think we’re at a pivotal moment because we’re getting to define what APU looks like because we’re the first group back after the pandemic.”

Despite the diminishment of pre-pandemic campus culture, there is still an opportunity to craft the current culture on campus into something new. The need for community and the need for a sense of shared identity are still integral to the APU student body.

According to Parini, the culture of a campus gives students a sense of belonging. It helps students understand what they are a part of and makes them feel more passionate about the community they’re in.

Tom Ellet, the chief experience officer at Quinnipiac University, wrote in an article for Inside Higher Ed, “The pandemic hasn’t stripped students of their desire to join a community. Instead it has forced those responsible for it to uncover the possibilities.”

What’s left for the current student body is an opportunity to craft what the future campus culture of APU will be. In this post-pandemic era we may be realizing that the old campus culture wasn’t able to completely survive, but the desire of students to be in a community that stands out as something special has persevered — after all, that is what drew so many students here in the first place.

“We’re setting the groundwork and the framework for everyone else who enters APU,” said Parinni. “It’s pivotal that we are establishing what our culture is because for the next generations of whoever comes to APU, that’s what they’re going to walk into. And I think the culture is what makes people want to join APU.”