Students reflect on life in the dorms during pandemic

Broken doors, quarantine, and hybrid classes. Students discuss residential life during a pandemic.

Art+by+Michelle+Rodriguez-Gonzalez.

Art by Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez.

Gillian Manning, Editor-in-Chief

College students across the country have faced the challenges of the pandemic while continuing their education. Students at FAU have felt that reality and individuals living on campus have experienced a unique set of challenges, navigating not only state and government safety measures but those set by the university as well. 

Shelby Klein, who graduated this spring after having studied communication and hospitality management, lived in Innovation Village Apartments North (IVA-N) during her final semester at the university. 

“I like how they’re enforcing COVID policies,” Klein said in April, noting that she had seen students regularly wearing their masks in the dorm building and elevators. 

In March 2020, the university began the policy that students were not allowed to bring guests into the dorms, only residents and staff are allowed in the buildings.

“I feel like they’ve been strict about the guest rule,” Klein said. She stated that she’s seen larger groups of students be stopped by front desk staff to ensure that everyone was meant to be there. Other residents have not made the same observation. 

Elijah Newkirk, a sophomore studying commercial music, has been living in Innovation Village Apartments South (IVA-S) and also noticed that mask-wearing has been consistent on campus but observed a lack of enforcement in other areas.

“The no guest policy, it’s not enforced,” Newkirk said, “If you look like a student, they let you in.” He stated that he’s heard parties taking place in the dorms over the semester but couldn’t confirm whether or not attendees were residents of the building. 

Newkirk said that students frequently come into the building in groups, but part of that may be due to poor infrastructure.

“The building is pretty poorly maintained, none of the swipe cards work,” Newkirk said.

The entrances to the IVA building are locked and can only be accessed by swiping one’s Owl Card (student ID). Newkirk explained that the card readers for the main entrance to his building, as well as the side gate entrance, are often broken or don’t process students’ IDs. This leads to a group of students forming outside of the door until the front desk staff lets them in. 

“I put in a [work] order, they said they were working fine but I know they’re not working fine because some of them aren’t even working at all,” Newkirk said.

Another safety measure the school took according to the health and safety plan was turning off all water fountains and water bottle fillers, limiting students’ access to free, clean drinking water.

Remington Norman, a junior studying marketing, said that he has to purchase bottled water instead of going to the on-campus water stations.

“I feel like I have to restrict myself,” Norman said. 

Klein had come into contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID and went through FAU’s quarantine process as a result.

With a couple of hours’ notice, Klein had to collect bedding, food, and any other belongings she would want to have in her “isolation dorm,” a separate room that she was not allowed to leave for 10 days. 

Food and other items that Klein had forgotten, she ordered and had delivered to her room. 

“Those were the longest 10 days of my life,” Klein said. While she did not ever test positive for COVID-19, she said she’s glad she reported the contact with someone who did. “I feel like I did the right thing.” 

For the past year, classes have been taught primarily through virtual spaces like Zoom and WebEx.

“It’s really hard being on campus when everything’s online. I’ve just been feeling very burnt out because of classes, it’s my last semester, and I had no spring break,” Klein said. 

FAU canceled spring break this semester and instead ended the semester one week earlier than initially planned.

“I’m just tired of these online classes,” said Klein, “But I’m really fortunate that I have friends in the area and that they live on campus too, so at least I got to have the social aspect of college life.”

Newkirk stayed home during the Fall 2020 semester before living on campus this spring and expressed the positive effect coming back to campus had on him. 

“[My mental health] is a lot better now that I’m back on campus. Being at home, it was hard, ya’ know? Just doing your classes, not seeing your friends, it really felt like I was doing more work, but I didn’t have those social interactions to balance it out,” Newkirk said. 

Newkirk took an in-person class and three hybrid classes this semester, which was a “nice” change since he got to practice his music with peers during class time and in the dorms. 

Norman also expressed the difficulties of being away from campus. 

“I don’t know too many people where I live,” he said about his home in Jacksonville, Fla., where he stayed during the Fall 2020 semester. 

While meeting people on campus has been hard due to the lack of social activities, Norman said, the opportunity to see other students is still there. With the hybrid class option, he was able to go in person and interact with his peers.

“You don’t really have that opportunity when you’re at home,” Norman said. 

Newkirk expressed that he doesn’t feel FAU’s priorities are always aligned with students, particularly in areas such as infrastructure, parking, and housing. When it comes to COVID-19, however, he conveyed a more positive experience. 

“I think they’ve been handling it well,” Newkirk said. “Nobody on campus that I’m friends with has gotten COVID.” 

Klein said that she does wish the university reached out to students directly regarding mental health matters perhaps through surveys or check-ins. 

Norman recalled earlier in the semester when he went to the recreation center and there was a box of positive affirmations that students could pull from as they left. He remembered the note that he grabbed read, “Move in ways that make you feel good.”

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of our “One Year Later” special newsletter issue, which you can view here.

Gillian Manning is the Editor-in-Chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, tweet her @gillianmanning_ or email [email protected]