The novel coronavirus has caused a lot of upheaval in the academic world. With the cancellation of in-person classes and events, universities across the nation are changing how they treat residential students. Some, like Boise State, have forced everyone out of their dorms. The University of Northern Colorado allowed some students to stay on campus, but campus is very different when nearly empty.
Even before UNC limited access to campus, its residence halls were not at capacity. Now, the halls are practically empty. Some resident assistants in Turner Hall have entire floors to themselves.
The response to the coronavirus has dramatically affected normal operations on campus. When residents returned from spring break, only the front desks at Harrison Hall and Arlington Park were open. When Gov. Jared Polis issued a stay-at-home order, all front desks closed. Now, residents who need help must call an RA on duty.
Just as there are fewer residents on campus, there are also fewer RAs. Only seven of Turner Hall’s original twelve RAs are staying until the end of the semester. Harrison Hall has only had six RAs return. Because of this, RAs for both halls now share duties in the operations of both buildings.
Martin Phillips, a resident of Turner Hall, has been living on campus since spring break. Going from socially isolating with his family to being alone in the dorms was difficult for him.
“The only people I see are the staff at the dining hall and some stragglers in Turner if I’m lucky,” Phillips said.
It’s not just the residence halls that have changed. Dining services now feeds students very differently. All dining halls are closed, so residents must go to Holmes Hall to receive ready-made meals. There are lines of red tape on the floor to enforce social distancing, and each student gets six feet to themselves. This system works well during low-traffic hours, but when each spot is filled, people are forced to wait outside. This isn’t a problem on nice days, but on snowy days people are forced to decide between staying warm and staying six feet apart.
Students also have complaints about the quality and delivery of their food. A lot of single-use plastics are required to keep meals sterile. At the beginning of the process, the dining halls only served refrigerated foods. After receiving feedback, they started offering hot meals and added more food to students’ orders. Hungry students can also turn to the vending machines in their buildings.
With the closing of all retail dining on campus, vending machines are the only place left to spend non-refundable dining dollars. Some vending machines are only accepting cash, and to protect workers they’ve stopped being restocked.
Students have started sharing food by leaving unopened snacks on the front desks of their buildings for others. People will wave at strangers and make friends at a safe distance. People still sing and practice instruments, and will blast music for all to hear. Those who are still on campus are isolated, together.
“It’s like a haunted house. It feels like I’m alone, but sometimes people leave food out or I hear the elevators moving,” Phillips said.
More information on how UNC is handling housing and dining services during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the unco.edu/coronavirus website.