On-campus life (feat. masks and social distancing)

By Carlos Fuentes and Haviland Stewart | February 17, 2021 3:32pm
Monday Feb. 1 marked the return of in person classes to The Bluff. The Clark Library also reopened, offering 100 socially distanced seats to on and off campus students.
Media Credit: Molly Lowney / The Beacon

Picture this: you are a second semester freshman at UP. You traded a wild and eye opening first semester of college for four months of Zoom classes and Discord chats in your childhood bedroom. Now with the first glimmer of hope for establishing a new normal, you have taken a leap of faith — making the challenging decision to leave behind your family and brave the complexity of living on a college campus amidst a global pandemic. 

While to most of us, this seems just less than terrifying, in late January, the University of Portland welcomed over 800 students to its campus, all while Oregon coronavirus rates began decreasing. 

Moving into the dorms during a pandemic was no easy task, with some students travelling hundreds of miles and only one guest allowed per room. Now, three weeks into the 2021 Spring semester, campus is beginning to feel revived — even behind masks, six feet apart, and more, UP is beginning to rebuild its in-person community.

For freshman nursing major Bryce Crowder, moving into a dorm room during a pandemic was an appealing option for multiple reasons. 

“I chose to come to campus for the chance to have an in-person class, be part of the UP community, and be part of helping the school gather information on how to fully return back to normal,” Crowder said. 

Bryce Crowder, freshman nursing major, moves his belongings into Lund Hall.
by Brennan Crowder / The Beacon

For upperclassmen returning to the dorms, the community aspect of on-campus life was a large motivator for coming back to campus. 

“I am excited to interact and build relationships with my residents,” junior RA Seneca Helfrich said. “The hall events us RA’s organize will be the high points for the semester. We have a selfie scavenger hunt event that will be one of the many events we have planned. Of course, these events will be done with COVID policy in mind to maintain the safety of the UP community.”

The move-in process was smooth and easy to follow, according to Crowder. This was largely due to the efforts of residence hall staff, including RAs who helped their fellow residents move in over the three day period. Students signed up for a slot on a specific day to avoid large clusters, which worked effectively, according to Mehling Hall Director Shaylene Smith. 

“This year’s move in was different in more ways than one,” Smith said. “I really liked how everything was spaced out over a few days. This gave staff time to be intentional with their move in process and for others to help. Also, we were able to share the wealth of purple bins, if you have been a part of a move in then you know how special it is to get access to one.”

Mehling Hall Resident Assistants take the temperature of guests as residents move in to the building.
by Molly Lowney / The Beacon

All students were tested for COVID-19 before moving in, and even with the added precautions of masks and social distancing, limited space and resources added stress to the overall environment. 

“It was honestly a little overwhelming moving so many people into the dorms over a few days. given we are in a pandemic,” senior Mehling RA Emma Castillo-Gonzales said. “However, the move-in process this semester was so much more organized than in previous years. I hope they keep this system of having ‘move-in appointments’”.

Shipstad Hall has been designated to house student athletes due to their high contact with fellow teammates. The move-in process for Shipstad hall was mainly led by the Athletics department, according to junior Shipstad RA Grace Batra. Each team in the dorm is specifically assigned to one wing, where every student lives in a single room. Even with these precautions, monitoring health is of the utmost importance. 

“It’s scary just because everyone was coming back from different places,” Batra said. “But now I feel safer just because everyone's getting more COVID tests, and we're continuously monitoring the athletes, not only us as Residence Life, but the Athletics department too, so I feel better about it. It’s definitely scary because I feel like we're constantly around everybody who is traveling and practicing together, and who knows if they're wearing masks.”

All athletic teams are currently training or even competing, meaning that they are in contact with more individuals than most students in other dorms. Senior women’s tennis player and Shipstad resident Raphalle LeBlanc believes that student athletes are being attentive to health regulations. 

“I think we all know that this affects our whole team if one of us were to test positive, and all of us want to play and have our seasons at this point,” LeBlanc said. “I think we all prioritize health and staying safe over hanging out with people.”

At the end of the day, it is up to students to regulate themselves and those around them. UP has set up several large tents to encourage safe outdoor socializing. 

Heated tents are set up across campus as safe outdoor gathering spaces for students.
by Molly Lowney / The Beacon

“Socializing outside is obviously the best option for staying safe and healthy, but right now it’s really cold which makes being outside for more than a short time pretty unappealing,” Crowder said. “... Everyone here is extraordinarily welcoming, and the environment is more close-knit than it may seem considering all of the precautions we must take.”

For now, the focus is keeping campus COVID-19 rates low. But even during a pandemic, students are still looking forward to building community and making friends in the dorms, even if the friendships are formed six feet apart. 

“As a senior, this is my last semester on campus, so I am excited to help my residents develop new connections on campus and help make their experience at UP the best it can be,” Castillo-Gonzales said. “I loved the community in my hall that my RAs developed, and I hope to do the same for my residents.”

Carlos Fuentes is the Copy Editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at fuentes22@up.edu.

Havi Stewart is the Living Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at stewarth22@up.edu