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Freshmen Report Social Isolation, Declining Mental Health Amid Pandemic

By Yuen Ting Chow
By Yuen Ting Chow and Natalie L. Kahn, Crimson Staff Writers

This is Part IV of our Freshman Survey series. Part I is here, Part II is here, and Part III is here. Full data and visualizations will be released later this week.

As freshmen scurried across the Yard last week, many were headed to their first in-person class for the first time in 18 months. This classroom experience was far from the normal, though, with many pandemic norms — including compulsory masking — still in place.

Most members of the Class of 2025 reported spending the entirety of their senior year learning in-person with masks or completely online. Twenty-one percent of respondents indicated that they ended their high school tenure remotely.

Students hailing from the Midwest reported finishing high school with fully in-person learning at the highest rates — 39 percent — followed by 35 percent of students from the Southeast. Only 20 percent of students from the West Coast finished their school year without some remote component.

Many freshmen also reported the 18-month period of unconventional learning negatively impacted their mental health. Roughly 63 percent of respondents said the pandemic contributed to a decline in their mental health, with 91 and 67 percent of this subset citing social isolation and stress, respectively, as additional causes. Additionally, 16 percent of respondents pointed to income insecurity resulting from the pandemic as a factor that worsened their mental health.

The pandemic’s negative impact on mental health varied across gender. While 67 percent of female respondents said their mental health suffered during the pandemic, only 55 percent of males reported the same. Furthermore, of those who listed social isolation as a contributing factor to mental health deterioration, 56 percent of respondents were female, while only 40 percent were male.

Despite the widespread impact of the pandemic, only 14 percent of surveyed students reported contracting coronavirus over the course of the pandemic.

Of those who contracted Covid-19, Hispanic or Latinx students reported the highest percentage of Covid rates at 21 percent, compared to 16 percent of both white and Black students. Asians and South Asians reported the lowest rate at 5 percent.

Just before starting their first semesters at Harvard, roughly 78 percent of freshmen responded to a Crimson email questionnaire about their backgrounds, beliefs, lifestyles, and experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. The anonymous survey explores topics ranging from political ideology to sexual experience to Covid-19’s impact on their mental health. Out of 1,965 students in the biggest class in Harvard’s history, 1,537 responded. The Crimson did not account for potential selection bias in its analysis of the results. Due to rounding, reported statistics may not total exactly 100 percent.

This final installment of The Crimson’s survey of the Class of 2025 examines how students have experienced the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, their vaccination trends, and views on coronavirus policy.

Impact

Though 14 percent of students reported contracting the coronavirus themselves, nearly 23 percent indicated at least one person in their household contracted Covid-19 since March 2020. Approximately 15 percent of students reported they have had a family member or close friend die from Covid-19.

Students from the Southeast had the highest percentage of those who have had Covid-19 at 16 percent. The Northeast and Midwest reported similar rates at 13 and 12 percent, respectively.

Roughly 24 percent of students whose parents make less than $40,000 annually indicated that they had a close friend or relative who died of the coronavirus. In contrast, only 10 percent of students hailing from households with combined parental income above $500,000 reported a similar phenomenon.

Hispanic or Latinx students reported the highest percentage of those who had a relative or close friend die of Covid-19 at 32 percent, followed by 18 percent of Black students, 12 percent of Asian and South Asian students, and 11 percent of white students.

Some surveyed students also reported the pandemic placing financial strain upon their households. Approximately 9 percent indicated that someone in their household lost their job during the pandemic and 8 percent of students reported having a family member who was furloughed. Hispanic or Latinx students reported the highest rate at 29 percent, compared to 17 percent of Black and Asian or South Asian students.

Of students from families with annual incomes lower than $40,000, 21 percent indicated that one or more members of their households lost jobs, and 16 percent indicated that at least one household member was furloughed. In contrast, only 1 percent of students whose parents make a combined family income of more than $500,000 indicated that they had a household member lose their job during the pandemic.

Covid-19 policy

Adhering to the University’s vaccine mandate for all students, more than 98 percent of freshmen reported having received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which surpasses the overall undergraduate population vaccination rate of 93 percent. Roughly 96 percent of freshmen have received both doses, while 2 percent of students reported receiving a single dose, according to the survey.

Approximately 77 percent of students received their first vaccine from March to May 2021, while 38 percent — a plurality of students — received their first vaccination dose in April followed by 23 percent in March and 16 percent in May.

Only 15 percent of students reported receiving a vaccine in June or later, while 8 percent had their first dose before March 2021.

Pfizer was overwhelmingly the most popular coronavirus vaccine taken by the freshmen class. Of vaccinated freshmen, 74 percent got the Pfizer vaccine, while 18 percent of vaccinated freshmen received Moderna's.

Moderna tended to be most popular among surveyed students from the Southwest, as 27 percent of students from the region received this vaccine.

Only 5 percent of students received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while 1 percent received the British Astrazeneca vaccine.

An overwhelming majority of students — 89 percent — reported that they still wear masks in public spaces, indoor or outdoor. Per a Harvard policy, undergraduates must wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Cambridge reinstated its indoor mask mandate in public spaces on Sept. 3.

Following national trends, political leanings seemed to affect mask-wearing among freshmen — 87 percent of students who identified as “very liberal” or “somewhat liberal” said they typically wear masks in indoor crowded public spaces, in contrast to 56 percent of “conservative” or “very conservative” students.

Roughly 89 percent of respondents said they would continue to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces. Roughly 59 percent said they would still wear a mask in uncrowded indoor spaces, while 57 percent reported that they would wear a mask in crowded outdoor spaces.

Patterns surrounding mask usage in uncrowded outdoor spaces emerged along gender lines. While 11 percent of respondents said they would wear a mask in uncrowded outdoor spaces, of this group, 60 percent were female and 38 percent were male.

Eleven percent of surveyed freshmen said they would not wear masks in either indoor or outdoor settings. Of those who said they would not wear masks, 70 percent were male, while only 30 percent were female.

Mask usage correlated with respondents’ political leanings; five percent of “very liberal” or “somewhat liberal” students reported that they did not typically wear masks in indoor or outdoor public spaces, compared to 40 percent of “very conservative” or “somewhat conservative” students.

—Staff writer Yuen Ting Chow can be reached at yuenting.chow@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Natalie L. Kahn can be reached at natalie.kahn@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @natalielkahn.

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