“I used to have 131 residents in my building. Now only five or six have stuck around… I remember complaining about how much noise my residents made, now I just want to be able to hear it all again to give me some peace of mind” says Armonie Mendez, an Eleanor Roosevelt College Residential (ERC) Advisor of her experience on campus this quarter.
While the COVID-19 pandemic and UCSD’s subsequent transition to remote learning for Spring Quarter 2020 has caused the majority of undergraduate students to terminate their housing contracts, more than 5,000 students, like Mendez, remain on campus.
These students have been forced to adapt to a quieter campus environment and new restrictions put in place by Housing Dining Hospitality (HDH) to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
To minimize human contact, students have been relocated to single rooms in their respective colleges. Other regulations instated by UCSD HDH include limiting the number of students allowed in a space at any given time.
“Every location I’ve been to this quarter has put down tape 6 feet apart for people to form a line,” said Kayla Tirado, a second year Cognitive Psychology major currently living in Muir College. “Now that most people are at home, there are barely ever more than three people in one space at a time so there’s not much need for making people wait outside.”
The combined effect of a dwindling on-campus population and the enforcement of social distancing practices has made socializing with other students more difficult this quarter. As such, many remaining residents are struggling with feelings of isolation, “I used to see so many people around ERC, just walking or laying down on the green, and now it feels like a ghost town. I rarely have any human contact,” said Mendez.
To make matters worse, most clubs and organizations have cancelled their events for the rest of the academic year, bringing opportunities for campus involvement to a halt. However, some organizations like Flying Samaritans at UCSD and the UCSD Women’s Center, have found ways to engage their members online by holding meetings via Zoom. UCSD Board Game Club has also taken advantage of online platforms by hosting games on Tabletop Simulator and holding discussions via Discord.
Despite attempts to maintain a social life on campus, this shift in the community on campus is taking a toll on residents’ mental health. “I miss the bustle of people going to John’s or hanging out at MOM. Campus being empty and silent just doesn’t feel good to me,” said Tirado.
This burden falls particularly heavily on international students, who make up a large portion of those still living on campus. As many of their home countries have imposed flight restrictions, these students remain on campus without the option of returning to their families.
“I need to stay in California for tuition purposes. I wouldn’t have been able to leave the US and my other option in California wasn’t ideal… so I stayed on campus,” explains Natalie Lam, a first year Physics major in ERC and one such student. Having so many social barriers in place means residents must manage isolation with minimal engagement from friends and family.
For some, the anxiety of a deserted campus extends beyond social life. Residents fear their safety is being compromised because they are living alone. “It sucks having to go back to my practically empty building. It almost feels unsafe,” explained Mendez.
There is also growing concern from students over financial instability. Many student workers have been left without jobs as they were not given the option to work remotely. A reduction in hours and locations open specifically led to many HDH student workers being unable to continue working. Lam explained, “I wanted to work for HDH this quarter, but they aren’t taking applications anymore due to the reduced hours and the prohibition of in-person interviews.” HDH announced that there would be no COVID-19 related layoffs for career employees through the fiscal year.
Despite recent changes, some on-campus residents have found benefits to living alone. “The lack of crowds makes for very nice scooter rides. Also, laundry days are way better because I don’t have to wait for people to unload the machines,” said Lam. Other students have found that staying at the university has motivated them in their online classes, “I know for sure that I am much more productive on campus as opposed to at home,” Lam continued.
Above all, residents long for the lively campus they are accustomed to. “I just miss seeing everyone’s face and having conversations in passing.” Mendez shared.
With an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, residents must forge their own version of normalcy amidst ongoing changes to the campus community.
Amanda Gonzalez is a Staff Writer for The Triton