“In these COVID times,” as we are fond of saying, “everything is different.” Campus housing is no exception. With only about 60 percent of the student body on Lawrence’s campus for Fall Term, many students’ residential life looks significantly different than what they had experienced before at Lawrence or, in the case of freshmen, what they expected college dorms to be like.
Fewer students on campus means more students have the opportunity to room alone. For example, junior Macy Veto wanted to have a single for the 2020-21 year, but at the end of last Winter Term she nonetheless made arrangements with a roommate due to the difficulty of getting singles. But because of the pandemic, when not as many students wanted to return, her original plan worked out. She now lives in a single opposite from her intended roommate, a situation she says is “the best.”
Upperclassmen in singles and “dingles” (a room meant for two but occupied by one) certainly seems more common this term. Some students even have entire quads or suites to themselves.
One of these students, sophomore Astra Medeiros, described having a Hiett suite to herself as “really nice . . . , but sometimes I wish I had another person close by.” Waking from a nightmare in a single, there is no one to check in on you. And especially with social distancing in place, the isolation of rooming alone can be difficult. “Sometimes it gets lonely,” Medeiros explained. “It’s almost like I have too much space than I know what to do with.” Just dealing with all the furniture intended for nonexistent roommates can be difficult decorating-wise. She clarified that having your own bathroom is still great, describing quad life alone as overall “a mixed blessing.”
Even the most social of on-campus housing experiences, co-ops, have been changed for COVID-19. Students living in co-ops are no longer cooking their own food on co-op meal plans. Instead, they are receiving food from Andrew Commons like everyone else to minimize infection risk. Common spaces in the co-ops are mask-mandatory like all public spaces on campus. Sophomore Olivia Sibbet, who is new to her co-op and living in a dingle, described this as strange.
“Wearing masks indoors . . . feels like wearing masks with your family,” she said. Despite this, she added, “there’s a surprising amount of friendship and intimacy.” Members still talk in the group chat, at meetings and occasionally in the kitchen cleaning dishes. Still, she said, it’s lonely. “Even though I share a lot of my spaces and there’s some dialogue, I don’t have anyone to connect to day-to-day.”
This is probably why most freshmen have still been placed in the traditional doubles. Of course, being paired with an unknown person your first year on campus is a rite of passage of sorts, and this has been preserved. But more importantly, on a physically-distanced campus with classes mostly online, it becomes extra important for students who do not know anyone to have at least one social interaction per day.
Even students who are returning to Lawrence have wanted to keep these guaranteed in-person interactions. Sophomore Charlie Wetzel was offered a single but chose to stay with her roommate Willow Higgins because they wanted to have each other as support. My roommate Maeve Tallman and I were also offered singles but chose to room together instead.
However, when it comes to Zoom classes, having a roommate can present a problem. Many roommates’ synchronous classes will overlap, and they will have to participate in different classes simultaneously.
Wetzel and her roommate often deal with this by having one of them go to the library or Main Hall Green to work, but this is not always possible for all roommate pairs. Headphones can help with the problem, as can Zoom’s chat feature, and there are other strategies roommates can use. Freshman Diego Leon says his room is “set up in a way that [he and his roommate] don’t interrupt each other.” However, even with this measure, he maintains it is “somehow limiting knowing that the other person is in class and we could potentially disrupt them.”
Personally, I have found that my classes do not require students to speak often — we are usually all on mute. However, I will not soon forget my Zoom breakout room where, over our discussion of East Asian history, a professor’s Spanish lecture could be clearly heard. This may have been distracting for others, but for me, it was the most on-campus I have felt since arriving here. It felt like arriving early for Freshman Studies last winter and finding a room full of upperclassmen still clamoring over their linguistics discussion. There are other students living almost parallel lives who you never meet! I had almost forgotten. Of course, I probably only found this exciting because I do not have to deal with overlapping Zooms every day.
Online classes are also our everyday reminder that not everyone in the Lawrence community is back on campus. While you will see the familiar plastic-wood dorm furniture and old ceiling tiles in 60 percent of your Zoom boxes, the other 40 percent contain our classmates in their homes around the world.