I'm currently a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, living on campus. Initially, I was nervous to live in a dorm amidst a pandemic. The shared bathrooms, tight hallways, and buffet-style dining hall were all concerns of mine coming back to campus. Now that a semester has almost concluded, I can say I made the right choice to return.
While our bathrooms are still shared, they are cleaned more frequently. Masks are required everywhere in the building (outside of your own room). Guests from other residence halls are not permitted inside the buildings, nor is more than once guest per room allowed. Each floor in my dorm has assigned laundry days to reduce the amount of people doing laundry at the same time. (To be honest, I hope we keep assigned laundry days beyond the pandemic).
Our dining hall has shifted to a take-out service. The food options are fairly limited, however you can probably still find something you like. One of our largest dining halls on campus recently opened up dining-in seating. This is restricted to a few tables spread out across the dining hall and typically only four people are allowed to a table.
All undergraduate students are tested twice a week, regardless of whether you live on or off campus. Faculty and staff are also tested on a weekly basis. The test consists of spitting a small amount of saliva into a tube, which is much less invasive than being probed up the nose. Results usually come back within 8-12 hours, however, we are promised to receive our results within 48 hours. This gives me a sense of comfort knowing that most people around me are likely free of the virus.
After the first month of school, cases significantly dropped, allowing the university to hold more in-person events, such as socially distanced movie nights and concerts in an outdoor stadium. Since all of my classes are online, it was nice to be able to do something that wasn't over Zoom. In order to attend any of these events (or in-person classes), you must show a "boarding pass" which is linked to your COVID test results. In order to be granted building access, you must have tested negative within the last four days. Though this doesn't completely eliminate the threat of being infected, it reduces the odds.
Most students seem to obey social distancing guidelines. Off-campus, I've driven past a few of the popular bars---which seem to still be drawing in large crowds. This concerns me that while people may be cautious around campus, their common sense seems to leave as soon as the Saturday night arrives.
Despite the rising cases in Illinois, Champaign-Urbana remains a bubble of low positive cases. My roommate and other friends from my hall have expressed that they "feel much safer here than back home in the Chicago suburbs". Though I am not from Illinois, I relate knowing that my home state recently had one of the highest percentages of COVID cases in the nation. Prior to this month, no one was certain of whether we'd be returning for the spring. We narrowly avoided getting sent home in September, but it seems the university has figured out how to keep us here to continue to rake in housing fees.
Our chancellor recently announced that there will be no spring break next semester. To accommodate for this, the university plans to extend winter break by one week, then give us three days off within the semester. These days fall in the middle of the week, to discourage students from returning home. I understand why there is no break in the middle of the semester, however, the extra week of winter break does no good when they require us to return early to test for COVID before beginning classes again. The idea of doing sixteen straight weeks of online classes already makes me feel burned out. Not to mention, spring break used to be my only hope to see my family, since I don't have the option to drive home one weekend. Online classes have been extremely draining, and it seems like they are here to stay for another year of my academic career. It's devastating to know more than half of my college experience will not be the experience I hoped for.
No one knows exactly how the next semesters will play out, but we can continue to do our part. Even if the rest of my college experience is spent online, I'd like to think there's something noble about persevering during a pandemic.
Keep wearing your masks and staying socially distant. Our college experience might feel reduced, but the reasons we came to college aren't diminished. Those hopes for the future can still flourish.