Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: My 1st semester on campus in the midst of a pandemic

February 25, 2021
Photo by Emily Maze | The State News

This January, I moved into my dorm room in Case Hall and began my second semester as an MSU freshman. Although technically, it was my first semester living on campus.

Last fall, I took classes from home due to limited space available in dorms given the COVID-19 restrictions. So, after MSU announced they would be allowing an additional 2,500 students to move into residence halls in the spring, I applied and was accepted. 

But my campus experience so far has been anything but normal. I began my first semester the same time winter began to pick up, and shortly after I moved in campus became frigid and snowy.

After a few weeks, campus was under a new, stricter enhanced physical distancing directive, and with temperatures low, Residence Education and Housing Services (REHS) sent an email to students on Feb. 5.

“Doors and blinds should also stay closed to keep warm air inside,” the email said.

The request, which aims to avoid damaging pipes and heating systems, came six days after the campus entered a two-week period of enhanced physical distancing. At this time, I had already been in my room, alone, for nearly a week. I looked out the window, imagining what my semi-quarantine would look like without any natural light. I decided to keep the blinds up.

The enhanced physical distancing directive, which went into effect at midnight Jan. 31, laid out a new list of guidelines that were in effect until 11:59, Feb. 13

Under the new guidelines, students were not allowed to have any visitors in their dorm rooms, including suitemates. Students were also ordered to remain in their residences except for a short list of acceptable activities including picking up food from the dining hall or providing a sample for MSU’s COVID-19 Early Detection Program.

Due to the period of enhanced physical distancing and MSU’s COVID guidelines in general, my first semester on campus has certainly been strange, but I would not call it boring.

The experience of having a dorm room to myself is exciting. It gives me more freedom than I would have in a normal year, and I feel that having privacy helps me ease into the experience of living with another person. And after taking my classes from home last semester, studying in my dorm room is a lot more relaxed. I feel more involved in my classes this time around, and I like being able to spread my papers, books and computer around the room.

Also, the extra privacy allows me to “lock in” when I need to. If I need a break, I can talk to my suitemate, go downstairs and get food or turn my chair around to play a game of NHL on my Xbox. 

Living in the south campus makes me feel more connected to the school I enrolled in months ago. I’ve taken a few walks around the currently snowy campus, visiting MSU landmarks like Sparty, Breslin Center and Munn Ice Arena, as well as East Lansing staple restaurants like El Azteco. I can see Spartan Stadium to the left out my window, and in the evening, I can watch a line of shadow creep up the façade of the Duffy Daugherty Football Building as the sunset washes it in amber light. Even this view is enough to make me finally feel like an MSU student. 

Although occasionally, I am reminded of the strangeness of my experience. When I eat with friends, we have to sit at our own tables, six feet apart. Furniture in residence halls is roped off, flipped over or pushed against the wall, giving some corners of the buildings an eerie, deserted feeling.

Every week, I have to fill up a vial with my own spit, log the sample online and slide it into a receptacle on the first floor of my residence hall. When logging a sample, the site asks for feedback on the process, and after my first time providing a sample, I considered typing “it’s gross” into the text box.

Overall, my time at MSU has not felt that restrictive. Besides the two-week enhanced physical distancing period, I am able to go to the gym, sit in the dining hall and see my friends. Having to eat in my room and live almost completely isolated for a few weeks was an inconvenience, but with time spent on school and writing, it went by fast.

There are times that I felt frustrated that I was being asked to keep my distance from even my suitemate, but if the university’s measures keep me here in my room on campus, and not in COVID isolation or at home following a campus shutdown, I can live with it.

And while admiring the living space I dreamed of having since early high school, or walking around downtown in the community I’ve been writing about for nearly half a year, or crossing the Red Cedar River and watching the ducks cut through the icy water, I feel incredibly happy to finally be here at all.

This column is part of our Spring Housing Guide issue. Read the full issue here.

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