Together apart: Students living in the closest quarters of campus describe life during the pandemic

COVID-19 is still affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands in the United States. As of Sept. 9, there were almost 100,000 cases in Missouri, a spike of almost 2,200 since the previous day. On that same date, Adair County had 287 cases. COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly through many communities, and members of Truman State University’s campus are responding to the challenges this virus presents to theirs.

Students expressed mixed feelings about safety living on campus. While most concerns were regarding in-class interactions and transitions between classes and buildings, some students voiced concerns about on-campus living.

Sophomore Georgia Hollingsworth, a resident in Missouri Hall, noted that living in a shared space is less than ideal. 

 “We all have to share the same bathrooms, which kind of sucks, and of course we have to brush our teeth, and sometimes you have to brush your teeth next to someone, so you’re both not wearing masks,” Hollingsworth said. 

She added that, though many students are wearing masks when required in the halls, uncertainty about safety in academic buildings and outdoor expectations is one of her main concerns, indicating that some students do not wear masks outside or do not cover both their noses and mouths. 

Most of Hollingsworth’s concerns stem from a lack of certainty about other students’ commitment to maintaining a safe living space during the pandemic, and that life within the residence halls accentuates this fact. 

“You can’t have a clean environment, completely free of [the] virus, ‘cause you don’t know what anyone else is doing,” Hollingsworth said.

 The most common places students report discomfort also happen to be some of the places that define a college experience. For example, both Hollingsworth and freshman Rebecca Goodin, a resident of Blanton-Nason-Brewer Hall, revealed concerns about classroom safety and mask usage. 

Additionally, senior Christina Woelk, who lives in Campbell Apartments, expressed anxiety at mask removal when outside. 

“I’ve seen a lot of people while walking on campus will take it off … Even if we’re outside, someone can still contract it from somebody else,” Woelk said. “I can understand why you’d take a mask off, but especially when you approach the building or other people, [I] just wish people would wear masks a little bit more often.”

Other areas of concern were those inherent to a shared living space. Hollingsworth was uneasy about the sharing of community spaces such as the lounge, where students sometimes congregate in larger, close-contact groups. 

She also cited her concern regarding the repercussions of sharing a bathroom due to sanitary issues associated with coronavirus spread.

“Since we have a shared bathroom between the entire dorm, I’m concerned that if one person gets sick, we’d all have to quarantine, and if they didn’t quarantine us all, then what would happen?” Hollingsworth said. 

Current protocol requires residents who feel ill to inform suitemates and roommates as well as Residence Life staff of symptoms or test results. Under quarantine, a resident would be asked to refrain from leaving their room, and in case of isolation, placed in a single living space with individual facilities — repercussions that many students feel anxious to bear.

Hollingsworth is not the only one who feels uncomfortable about communal areas during these times. Goodin also shared that she didn’t feel very safe in the residence halls.

“It’s a lot of close quarters and sharing a room with another person … they don’t know where I’ve been, I don’t know where they’ve been,” Goodin said. “There’s a lot of passing by people in the hallway, and sometimes I don’t know if the lounges or kitchens have been disinfected.”

Although there are students who feel uncomfortable in shared living spaces, others feel that they are able to navigate through these difficult times safely. 

Residence Life has implemented strategies such as wearing a mask, keeping gatherings to under 10 people, limiting guest visits and reducing interactions with those outside personal living spaces in attempts to promote social distancing.  

“Everyone is very separate from each other because we all have our own individual apartments, so it’s a lot easier to socially distance,” Woelk said.

Proximity, however, is inevitable in on-campus housing. 

Woelk indicated that, though Campbell residents do not have much contact with one another, her main concern was the laundry room. 

“That’s the one place that everyone will definitely use,” Woelk said.

Woelk acknowledged the fact that her housing is farther from the rest of campus than others and that she does not come into contact with as many people as students in other halls. 

Woelk explained, however, that she believed social interaction is important for well-being, especially because this interaction allows her to maintain social contact and close friendship with her roommate. 

“It’s definitely been a lot more helpful in COVID times,” Woelk said. “I do like being on campus. I wouldn’t mind if my classes were virtual, but I’d rather live here.” 

Truman’s Frequently Asked Questions page maintained that there is no predetermined case threshold for campus departure, although circumstances can change with little to no notice.

Goodin, in knowledge of this unpredictability, said she fears that in-person learning will not be permanent for this semester. 

“We definitely do not have as many cases right off the bat as a lot of other colleges, but I don’t think we are going to last the whole semester,” Goodin said. 

Hollingsworth agreed and said she assumes the campus will close before the end of the semester.

Although premature dismissal this semester remains a concern, students can access several resources to aim toward mitigating the possibility. Over the past five months, Truman released multiple online pages with a Student Health Center Testing Update, Fall 2020 Campus Plan and case statistics

Residence Life has featured housing-specific COVID-19 updates on its website in prevention of coronavirus spread and the consequences to potentially follow. Among these precautions are to avoid close contact, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect. 

Residence Life Director Jamie Van Boxel said students should follow these guidelines to make the most of their college experiences in a safe and healthy manner. Van Boxel added that, despite risk of infection within the residence halls, his department is staying hopeful that these regulations are taken seriously.        

While the current situation might be seen as out of residents’ control, Res Life encourages all to take responsibility for their personal health. At the conclusion of its COVID-19 update page sits a four-line honor code, reading: “We are all in this together. What I do impacts you. What you do impacts me. What we do impacts all of us.”

Only time can tell the true magnitude of these effects, but for now, one thing is clear: the impact of daily decisions made by students and faculty will be here to stay.