Freshmen bid premature farewell to dorms

First-year University of Minnesota students are packing up or hunkering down in a premature end to their first year of college.

Freshman Marissa Mazzetta loads her belongings in preparation for her return to Illinois with her father, Jim Mazzetta, at Middlebrook Hall on Saturday, March 21. Mazzetta, like many freshmen at the University of Minnesota, is moving out of University housing as a result of COVID-19.

Kamaan Richards

Freshman Marissa Mazzetta loads her belongings in preparation for her return to Illinois with her father, Jim Mazzetta, at Middlebrook Hall on Saturday, March 21. Mazzetta, like many freshmen at the University of Minnesota, is moving out of University housing as a result of COVID-19.

Samantha Hendrickson

Freshman Catherine Perakslis dreamed of the ultimate college experience: making friends, heading to frat parties and rocking out to concerts after a day of classes. Instead, a few days ago she sat on her near-empty dormitory floor, crying and relating to “Five Feet Apart,” a film about two patients in a hospital who must remain five feet apart for their own health and safety.

It’s no longer just a movie for Perakslis and her friends, but a reality. 

For University of Minnesota freshmen like Perakslis, life in the dorms means a taste of independence and settling into life away from home, often for the first time. However, many first-year students are now being told to pack up and leave, or remain in near-empty dorms, as a result of University measures to protect them against COVID-19. 

University president Joan Gabel, in multiple emails to the University community, stressed the importance of students returning or remaining at home in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. As of Friday, Minnesota had 115 confirmed cases in the state.

However, many freshmen, despite understanding the need to move out and protect the community, are struggling to leave.

“I’m leaving everything,” said Alisha Bhagia, a freshman living in Middlebrook Hall. “Leaving friends that I made throughout this year, leaving people who lived on my floor and in my dorm [that] I might not ever see again … it’s a scary concept, because I formed this community with my dorm.”

Bhagia, who returned home to Rochester, Minnesota, last week, also said she wasn’t ready to leave everything she was accomplishing at the University and the independence that came with it. With a family of five at home, there are plenty of distractions to keep Bhagia off-task from her online courses, though she said she recognizes how lucky she is to have a family support system in place. 

Areeya Reynolds, a mathematics major living in Territorial Hall, stayed in her home in Bloomington, Minnesota, after the announcement that spring break was extended.

“I’m kind of back at square one where it’s just like, ‘Oh, you’re back in mom and dad’s house living under their rules,’ Reynolds said. “You don’t get the independence.”

Some students, however, don’t have the option to return home. 

Perakslis, also living in Middlebrook Hall, cannot fly back to her home state of Pennsylvania due to recent state closures of all “nonessential” businesses, including airports. While Pennsylvania has more COVID-19 cases than Minnesota, Persakslis said she would rather be home “more and more as the days go by.” 

“[It feels] just so lonely and so isolating … l feel very disconnected,” Perakslis said, adding that she misses the familiar company of her siblings and parents.

Jacob Ode, another freshman who aims to declare an economics major, said he is nervous and uncertain for the future of his academics. However, he doesn’t blame the University and said he thinks they’ve done “the best job they could.” 

The saddest thing for Ode, and many students, is leaving behind what he considers to be lifelong friendships formed in the dorms. 

“It hurts pretty bad … but it only hurts because I’ve been lucky to have met these wonderful, amazing people in the dorms,” said Ode. “So I guess I’m glad that I’m upset about it.”