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Students, Housing staff describe challenges of dorm life during campus closure

Dawn-Hunter Strobel Justine Bogle

Lifestyles editor Contributor

With the switch to online learning, students were faced with the decision to stay on campus or leave to live elsewhere. A majority of students living on campus decided to leave their dorms, but some students chose to stay on campus. The Collegian interviewed students still living on campus, as well as staff members of the Housing Department, to discuss the changes that have happened to on-campus housing as a result of COVID-19. Those interviewed noted the heavier workload for RAs, new dining procedures and the University’s efforts to maintain hygiene standards in on-campus housing facilities.

Because the numbers change so quickly, Housing did not have a definitive count of students to share, but Housing’s current estimation is that 200 students remain across all University housing, including in the University apartments. 

Students had a variety of reasons for staying on campus, but all have to adjust to new modes of living given current nationwide restrictions. 

McKenzie Potter-Moen (‘22) said she stayed on campus because of concerns around her family’s health. “I don’t want to be a non-symptomatic carrier and get them sick,” she said. 

Jessie Evans (‘22) said she stayed on campus because at home she would be unproductive and not be able to focus enough. Lilith Jewell (‘22) said she stayed on campus because it “maintains my independence.” 

Residential advisors (RAs) were given the option to leave campus, and most did, leaving less than half of the RAs on campus. As a result, many floors are left without RAs. Evans reported that there is only one RA in all of Lausanne, and there is one in Doney. Jordan Roue (‘22), an Eastside RA, said there are only nine Eastside RAs left. 

As part of the reallocation of responsibility, RAs are being given extra rounds of duty, which is the task of RAs to walk the halls and ensure everyone is safe and check for housing infractions. Aleesha Kazi (‘21), an RA, said, “We’re looking at two to three nights of duty, probably on average two nights of duty a week, where before there was a set number where you only did 11 for the entire semester.” 

Stephanie Leeth, the Eastside area coordinator, complimented the RAs on their response to added duties. “The RAs have really stepped up and helped out where it’s needed. I’ll put something in the Groupme [asking for help] and within five minutes it’s picked up,” she said. 

Director of Housing Scott Etherton echoed this, saying the RAs are a very dedicated group.

Leeth noted that in response to the government mandates and diminished staffing in housing across campus, Housing is taking a stricter approach to policy violations. “If somebody were to break policy in a larger way, we’re less likely to be like, ‘Yeah everything’s fine,’” she said. “You need to respect the policies now because we don’t have the capacity to track all of this right now, so please follow the rules and let us make the community as good as we can for everyone around.” 

In response to government mandates surrounding the spread of the virus, residents have been told to not gather in common areas, though kitchens and bathrooms can still be utilized.

Since so many people have left campus, many residence halls are nearly empty. Roue noted there is one person besides herself left on the fourth floor of Baxter, and Jewell said she estimated there were around 12 people on the third floor of Lausanne on April 6, the day the interview took place. Kazi said on her rounds, “I used to see like 10 to 15 people around. Now, I see like, maximum, five.” 

Roue reported only hearing one case about someone moving rooms, which was due to that person being the only one left in their hall. 

Initially housing planned to consolidate students in order to lessen the workload of maintenance staff, but Etherton said all of that consolidation has happened by now and Housing is not planning to move anyone else around on campus. “We have less than a month until finals are done. At this point it wouldn’t make sense,” he said.

A sign by Shepard House. Photo by Dani Garcia King.

Everyone interviewed did not have a roommate, although Evans’ roommate had moved out just a few days prior to her interview. 

Jewell said: “I’ve just been counting my blessings that my roommate went home already. Because if I wasn’t alone in this small of a space, then it would be impossible to handle.”

Evans said her roommate staying on campus was one reason she decided to stay because they got along well, but it did bring challenges. “We aren’t allowed to use common spaces, but we both have classes and at similar times,” she said. She also cited issues surrounding having confidential Sexual Assault Response Advocates (SARA) meetings in her room, which required her roommate to leave for the duration of the meeting. 

Dining is another factor that has changed the on-housing experience. Goudy is open twice a day for lunch and dinner pick-up. At dinnertime, residents are given breakfast for the following morning, which usually consists of a pastry, fruit juice, a kind of fruit and a grain bar. 

Evans doesn’t find the breakfasts filling enough, and as a result she has gone to Safeway to stock up on supplemental foods. She said, “They give you enough food if you eat the food that they give you, but sometimes the food they give you is really, really bad.” 

Jewell also expressed concerns about the food Goudy is giving, saying, “There’s at least one thing in every meal that I’m like, ‘Ah, I can’t eat that.’”

However, residents are getting fed more now than they did over spring break. During that week, Goudy did not serve lunch. Students reported this not being enough food, with Evans saying, “I definitely felt like I was getting less than 2,000 calories a day.”

As a result of this, students have stocked up on their personal food supplies. Potter-Moen relied on frozen vegetables and burritos for lunch during this time, and Jewell reported buying a lot of protein shakes. 

Etherton acknowledged the difficult task dining services has been given. He said: “They have a really challenging demand. ‘Feed people but do it to-go only and do it with a minimum number of staff.’ I mean, I don’t know how I would do that. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

In the midst of students having to rely on their own food supply, some maintenance issues in shared kitchen spaces have yet to be resolved. Jewell and Evans reported that the Lausanne oven does not work, and the Doney kitchen doesn’t have enough cookware. Kazi noted that this might be due to fewer students on campus who are able to report when things are broken. “It’s usually more noticeable when there’s other people and they’ll tell the RA, but because there’s less people on campus sometimes we don’t notice until it’s been a week or so,” she said.

Some changes are being made in response to hygiene concerns. Evans said everyone on her floor purchased their own hand soap. Flu Fighters, a group of students employed by the University to sanitize surfaces across campus, now sanitize surfaces and door handles in dorm buildings, which they previously did not do. Recently, Goudy gave everyone a mask in their dinner sacks. Masks can also be picked up in Ford Hall.

Some students reported being unsure of up-to-date expectations for living on campus because they haven’t received email updates from Housing since before spring break. Jewell said that all of her clubs and classes are keeping everyone updated on changes and expectations, but she has gone “without any news” from Housing. 

Etherton and Leeth said students have been receiving messages, but not from Housing specifically. Etherton noted that Housing is trying to “minimize the amount of information we’re sending to students.” He encouraged students to read updates on the Willamette website and read the Today@Willamette emails. 

Many residents expressed appreciation for the support they did have from various places across campus. At Goudy, Willamette Events Board (WEB) handed out activities like paint by numbers, which came from a Portland business, and leftover supplies from their Valentine’s Day “Stuff-A-Stuff” event. Evans noted that the Bearcat Pantry has been helpful and is still open to students through online orders. Kazi mentioned that one of her fellow RAs hosted a reading of “Goodnight Moon” over Zoom. 

Overall, residents reported feeling safe on campus with the precautions being taken, from closure of certain campus buildings to changes in resources around campus. 

Kazi said, “Housing is here for the safety of everyone” and went on to encourage people to reach out to one another as well as their RAs. 

Leeth encouraged residents still living on campus to send their feedback to Housing. “We truly are open to suggestions. I think a lot of times we think we’re doing things in the best interest of the entire group, but obviously we see things from the inside, so if people have suggestions or things they’re worried about, they can always reach out.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that no Residential Advisors were living in Doney Hall. At the time of publication, one Residential Advisor was.

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