Students remain on an empty, foreign campus

May 7, 2020

Illustration by Deborah Han

Georgetown students returned to campus after spring break to people moving out en masse after university communications indicated the semester would conclude remotely. After a rushed, often tearful, goodbye, they left campus behind. But some students, whose circumstances dictated they stay, continued to live on a Hilltop sparsely populated and with fewer available services.

Students who felt they could not move out by March 29 were asked to fill out an application form with their reason for needing to remain on campus. Students cited travel restrictions, health concerns, and unsafe home environments. Of the more than 1000 submitted applications, the university only approved between two and three hundred students to remain behind. These students were mostly moved into Village A or B apartments in isolation.

“Westchester County [in New York], where I’m from, had a much higher outbreak and my mom was working retail before nonessential businesses closed,” said Kate Clark (COL ’21), “so I couldn’t self-quarantine, and since I’m at-risk, that could have been a deadly combo.”

For those who continue to study remotely in D.C., most services and gathering spaces on campus are restricted, but essential resources remain open: the dining hall, Kennedy RHO, and offices in Harbin Hall. Leo’s is continuing a limited operation as well as arranging grocery days for students to pick up food. (xanax)  

The university has kept students on campus informed of the available resources, and students have been helping their new, distant neighbors. “There are several GroupMes that are basically students helping students when we have questions or concerns beyond what the university told us,” Kate Oelkers (COL ’21) said. 

In spite of the support network, however, the campus atmosphere is distinctly different. 

“It feels empty and also kind of foreign,” said Clark, “especially because when I go outside I feel like I’m doing something wrong.” 

Devoid of friends and faculty, the campus feels alien even as it continues to be a home. “It’s way different than during the year. It makes sense, but it’s not that exciting here,” Oelkers said. 

Still, the solitude has opened up opportunities for ways to weather the pandemic. “I’ve been cooking and doing a bunch of passion projects that I couldn’t have done at home or with roommates,” said Clark. “It was also nice to not have to move out yet, both so I’m mentally still at school and also not dealing with the stress of moving.”

After May 9, when the spring semester officially concludes, even the students on-campus will be on to their next destinations. Students have been asked to vacate campus if possible, though the university has assured they will not kick anyone out. Without an update on schooling during the fall semester, some upperclassmen are left in a bind and must decide whether to forfeit their lease deposits in case campus remains closed for the coming semester. Clark and Oelkers both plan on returning home only for a short time before figuring out their next accommodations.

Students are not the only ones adjusting to new responsibilities. Associate Director for residential ministry Matt Hall, who is responsible for Village A students, has remained on campus with other residential ministers (RMs) who still have residents in their buildings, but his services have adapted to the situation along with everyone else. “Since a lot of what RMs do is predicated on being residential (the R in RM), it is definitely different without students around,” Hall said. “I and a number of other RMs have continued to hold Zoom open houses.” 

All residential ministers maintain contact as much as they can through twice-weekly emails and continue to be on-call for students seeking support. Hall said of the situation moving forward, “However the pandemic shakes out, RMs will continue to be here to support students, whether online or in-person.”

Paul James
Paul is a former section editor and ESVA at the Voice and a student in the SFS, class of 2023, studying Culture and Politics. His favorite color is grey, spelled correctly.

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