Students look ahead to dorm life during the pandemic

As students file back onto the University of Minnesota’s campus next month, some have raised questions around how University housing will keep students safe and connected.

Moving+carts+fill+the+mailroom+at+Middlebrook+Hall+on+Saturday%2C+March+21.+Many+freshmen+at+the+University+of+Minnesota+moved+out+of+University+housing+as+a+result+of+COVID-19.

Moving carts fill the mailroom at Middlebrook Hall on Saturday, March 21. Many freshmen at the University of Minnesota moved out of University housing as a result of COVID-19.

Hana Ikramuddin

As students file back onto the University of Minnesota’s campus next month, some have raised questions around how University housing will keep students safe and connected this school year.

While some students say they remain largely unconcerned about the safety measures in place, others have expressed concern over how the University will work to keep them safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. University Housing and Residential Life has reported a higher than average amount of housing cancellations for this fall. The University has also implemented mandatory masks, social distancing in the dorms and the dining halls and sanctions for students who do not comply.

“Every part of the learning, housing and working environment is being designed to avoid anyone from being within six feet of someone else for 15 minutes or more,” read an email to the Minnesota Daily from a University spokesperson.

This will not necessarily keep students from interacting with one another, the email also stated. 

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the University is asking students living in dorms to limit close contact to their roommates, a small group of friends and their families. Apart from these groups, students are expected to maintain social distance.

Russell Brown, an incoming first-year student intending to major in political science, said he is largely unconcerned about COVID-19 in the dorms.

“I’m not part of any of the high risk groups, so I’m not necessarily concerned about my health, even if I get it,” Brown said. “That doesn’t mean I want to get the coronavirus but … I feel like with the current situation, they are doing a lot to try and limit the spread, especially in the dorms.”

Other students had a mix of concerns regarding both COVID-19 and their online class schedules.

Rishab Ambekar, an incoming first-year student who said he hopes to major in computer science, will be living at home in the fall.

“There’s really no reason for me to be on campus if I’m not taking any of my classes on campus, and I’ll be in the dorm most of the time,” said Ambekar, who lives in Nebraska. “If it’s still unsafe, there hasn’t been a vaccine yet or anything, or if all my classes are online again, I will probably still be staying at home.”

Ambekar changed his mind about moving into the dorms last week due to concerns about the coronavirus and his largely online class schedule. While Ambekar said he originally planned to move into the dorms in the fall, he is now hoping to move into University housing in the spring instead.

“I really want to live the college life, but I really can’t with COVID …  I also want to live in the big city and explore but I can’t,” Ambekar said, “I don’t want to risk myself or my family.”

Residents who violate social distancing and mask guidelines may face sanctions, something that has received a mixed reaction among students.

“I’m not sure that that’s going to be very enforceable to try and limit people’s contact with other people,” Brown said. “So, I don’t think they’re going to be able to effectively keep people separated.”

Incoming first-year student Ben Waddick also said he is skeptical of the University’s ability to enforce social distancing rules in the dorms and dining halls, although ensuring that students stay safe is important.

Waddick, who intends to major in computer science, has an immunocompromised family member. A lot of the excitement about moving into the dorms and starting college has worn off due to COVID-19, he said. 

“And I can only imagine what’s going to happen from now to November,” Waddick said. “It will probably only get worse, and it’s in the best interest of everybody to stay home after November. But then again, will it be enough?”