Like many current college third-years, I look back to the fall of 2019 with a blinding sense of nostalgia and envy towards freshman year me.
Picture me as a young, innocent, not-yet-curtain-banged 17-year-old that was picked off of Staten Island and catapulted into the magical realm of New Paltz. She lived in Gage Hall, room 205 to be exact, in an undesirable triple setting. But who cared? It was college, and she was here, doing things that college kids did.
I frequented the dining hall on Saturday mornings after nights out, playing “I Spy” with different people we saw at the frats who happened to be walking around. My biggest problems were the tour groups seeing me in my embarrassing flannel pajamas from my elementary school, and the fact that I had a math class that ended at 7:45 p.m. on Friday nights.
I left feeling nothing but anticipation for the nightlife that waited for me after: the house shows, the frat parties, and even the nights where we dorm-hopped, skating on our newly-purchased boards (to fit in with the rest of the population, of course) and ending up in the Shango Hall kitchen making cookies while playing Mario Kart.
There was something exciting about living on campus back then. Being in a full dorm hall, albeit feeling a little disconnected because I lived on a floor with only student athletes, made the realization clear that this was indeed what college life consisted of.
Getting to see and hang out in my friends’ dorm rooms, making friends with the neighbors and leaving the door wide open for anyone to wander in made my freshman first semester the amazing, strange and life-changing time it was.
Even the negative parts, like discovering the “wonders” of a communal bathroom, loud lacrosse players keeping me up at night and being 5’9” on a top bunk are things surprisingly I miss at times.
I didn’t mind dorm life, especially during my second semester when I upgraded to a double room. That’s why when we got sent home due to the pandemic, I signed right back up in the fall of 2020 to get a little more extra time in Capen 105.
My first semester as a sophomore started out fine. I was so happy to be back with my best friends in my favorite town in the world. Then, a strange new reality set in: campus life in the middle of a pandemic.
Let me get one thing straight: I was never anti-masks. However, having to wear one to simply walk to the bathroom, even though I completely understood the point of it, was easily tiring. Having to gear up to leave my tiny dorm to brush my teeth got old after awhile.
Another thing that slowly ate at me was the rule of not being allowed in other dorm buildings. My boyfriend and I started dating right before the pandemic sent us home, so I was looking forward to being on campus and being close to him. It proved to be extremely tricky since we lived in different buildings and we spent most of our time together in public places. We barely had a moment alone.
Near the fall of last year, my friend once pointed out that our dorm rooms felt more like shoeboxes and I found myself slipping from denial into agreement as the semester went on. With most indoor dining areas shut off, classes being online and restrictions on places to gather in the lounges of the dorms, I woke, slept, ate and went to class solely in Capen 105.
Doing all of my daily activities in one place was way too much. I could barely relax, and I imagine all of the class of 2023 who had a normal college experience at one point felt that way. I loved that room dearly during an era in time, but the popcorn ceilings felt like they were closing in on me.
This was happening around the point when my peers started signing leases for off-campus apartments and houses. I would visit my town-residing friends as an escape from limited food options, and I would cook in their full kitchens, use their nice bathrooms and sit on their comfy couches while watching actual TV. Things felt a little more normal, and I felt relaxed.
As they gave me room tours, I picked at an extreme sense of jealousy. At night, they were able to close the door if they desired alone time, and could freely get up to use the bathroom at any point if they needed. They could have anyone over if they deemed them safe enough during the COVID-19 era. There were no rules and I envied that living experience.
As the winter semester went on, and the cold weather made living in my little shoebox even more unbearable, I grabbed two of my friends and began the hunt for an apartment for junior year. I went on a tour for the apartment I reside in now, and immediately fell in love. Once I secured the quaint little room that I am typing from at this very moment, my dorm life situation didn’t magically get better, but I had a sense of hope that an escape was coming soon.
The entire point of this tirade isn’t to bash dorm life, or even how it was handled during the pandemic. I understood the rules completely; I am aware that they were there in order to keep us safe. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t physically and emotionally drained by them most of the time, as everyone is due to these pandemic years as a whole.
I enjoyed living on campus during my freshman year. It is just so soul-crushing that something so essential about the college experience, living on the campus of the university, became something I despised because of how COVID-19 rendered it. Who knows; if the pandemic never hit, maybe I would still be living in Convenient Capen, or a suite building, or anywhere I desired, dorm-hopping at night like the good ol’ days.
I am getting rid of these feelings of loss by embracing apartment life, which is really fun. Cooking in my kitchen, putting candles and other things banned by dorm fire and safety rules around my room, and the overall feeling of adulthood brought on by living on my own are things I’ve been experiencing.
This is my new chapter. My new reality. My junior year that I couldn’t be more happy with. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say I miss the scrawny, non-yet-curtain-banged Alli sitting on the top bunk of Gage 205 and sometimes wonder where she would be now if things were different.