When picturing life at SUNY New Paltz, many students recall the bustling academic concourse as students make their way to classes. Or they imagine Parker and Old Main Quad when it’s nice out, filled with students stretched out on blankets, setting up hammocks or throwing a frisbee back and forth. Maybe even the annoyingly long lines at Element 93, Nester’s or Pomodoro’s as you wait close to an hour to get your food.
With the move to online classes, Residence Life only permitting those with special circumstances to remain on campus, and other precautions put in place to ensure safety during this time, the picture of our campus for those who stayed behind looks drastically different than before.
“It’s a ghost town now, basically,” said undeclared first-year Tyler Thomspon.
This comes as no surprise. According to third-year theatre arts major Sofia Tirado-Ortiz, there was an estimate of only 70 students remaining on campus before tighter restrictions were placed on who was allowed to stay.
Originally, when the college announced the decision to move to online classes on March 11, students were given the option to either check out of their residence halls for the rest of the semester, or to return after spring break. But on March 17, an email was sent out stating that only students with special circumstances — such as international students or those with limited technology access — were permitted to stay.
“At first there were a few people sticking around, and we were all here for each other,” said second-year music major JD Shamoun. “Slowly, people [said] ‘yeah I’m staying all semester’ [but] then the next day, because of the change of news, they [said] ‘yeah my mom’s coming to pick me up right now.’”
The actual number of students who still live on campus now is unknown, but it appears to be very small.
“I don’t really see anyone anymore,” said Tirado-Ortiz. “Everyone’s kind of secluded and separated… I honestly don’t even know who else is on campus.”
A campus void of students is not the only drastic change to life at SUNY New Paltz during this time.
Dining options have depleted. Peregrine Dining Hall and all other eateries besides Nester’s and Pomodoro’s have been completely shut down. Even though Nester’s and Pomodoro’s remain open, food is served solely out of Nester’s, and the hours of operation have been shortened to 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. each day.
“Us students are thankful that there are dining services,” stated Shamoun. “But if you don’t grab food between 10 and six, you’re probably not going to eat unless you want to grab McDonald’s, which is one of the only things open off-campus.”
Beyond the limited number of dining options, the way in which students are able to physically get their meals comes with restrictions now as well. In order to encourage social distancing and limit interactions around campus, students can no longer wait in line and eat in the SUB. Everything, including the “grab and go” items offered at Nester’s, must be ordered through Grubhub and taken back to the residence halls.
“You don’t get to talk to anyone,” Tirado-Ortiz commented. “You just sort of breeze in and breeze out.”
The shift from physical ordering to Grubhub is just one of the many new rules on-campus students have to adhere to in order to prevent the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Other rules include absolutely no alcohol permitted regardless of age, no leaving campus for non-essential reasons, no group gatherings of any sort, no guests and when in the presence of others, students adhere to the six foot distance rule. Breaking these rules comes with strict consequences for students.
“If you get caught with a guest they’re supposed to deny you residency and ask you to leave immediately,” Shamoun explained.
Of course, it’s extremely important that these rules are followed for the safety of the entire campus community. However, another precaution that has been put in place didn’t come without a few caveats. In order to ensure further distancing, every student was moved to their own suite room to allow for personal bathrooms. However, emails regarding when the moves would take place and further, the amount of time every student would have to move, caused a lot of confusion and a rocky transition from spring break to classes.
“We got the notification that online classes started on Wednesday, and on Thursday I still didn’t know if I was gonna be moved,” explained Tirado-Ortiz. “During the first week of classes, in between me learning how to work online and all that, I was trying to pack up my whole dorm — the place I’ve basically called home for the past year. I had to email some professors [saying] ‘I’m sorry my work is going to be late, I have no time to do it because I only have from Friday afternoon to Sunday night to move all my possessions halfway across campus.’”
Even more perplexing were the rules in place for moving from dorm to dorm. While Tirado-Ortiz thought that students were responsible for moving to the suites all on their own, Shamoun had been under the impression that an email was sent out stating that students could help each other move.
“I got a dirty look from a friend of mine,” Shamoun said. “I [told her] ‘I’m helping my friend move, I thought they said in the emails that that was allowed.’ She still kind of rolled her eyes at me.”
Whether or not it’s safe to help friends move from dorm to dorm raises the question of what social distancing should look like on a college campus. Should students avoid interactions at all costs? Or is it safe to, considering the campus has become an almost isolated community? Currently, despite the new rules, consistent, small groups of friends can be seen hanging out around campus.
“It seems like they’ve agreed to all stay on campus together,” commented Tirado-Ortiz, “Which works out because then you know where [everyone is], so it’s kind of easier to social distance that way.”
“There are very few groups walking around together on campus, but it appears that most people are practicing social distancing,” said Shamoun. “Whether it’s for their own good or to make other people more comfortable.”
But while Shamoun reports that the majority of the campus community has been keeping safe, Thompson said the opposite.
“Social distancing is much more lenient from what I’ve seen,” Thompson said. “People have been hanging out like it’s any other day!”
Regardless of what other people around campus are doing, the important thing is to focus on what you can control. Keep yourself and others safe by practicing social distancing and proper hygiene. Make sure to find productive ways to keep yourself sane as we all navigate this upending time together — but from a distance.