Walking onto campus at the start of the fall semester tends to be one of the most exciting times of the year for students — DJ’s playing music, food trucks lined up along the Residence Village strip, reunions with friends. However, the start of the fall semester looked a little different this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept countless students away from campus this semester, causing St. John’s to look more like a ghost town than a thriving college campus.
“Campus looks empty — it’s so bizarre to not see crowds in the hallways, to not find every seat taken and to not hear crowds of people talking all at the same time,” senior communication arts major Sofia Altamura said. “I miss it.”
With the ongoing pandemic many students have opted to stay home and participate in their classes virtually or to commute, coming to campus only once or twice every week, some even only coming every other week. The Residence Village is operating at less than half of its usual capacity.
“The Residence Village is a lot more empty, but beside that it seems pretty normal,” junior government and politics major Zoe Karabenick said. “The only major difference is that you can’t sign anyone into buildings or have people in your room.”
When commuter students arrive on campus for class there is no more fighting for parking, but instead they can only enter through Gates 1 and 6, showing a green campus pass to gain entry. To receive a green pass to enter campus, you must fill out the COVID-19 screening test on the St John’s app.
“You have to check in at the gates when you come to campus,” Amrit Aditya, a senior accounting major, said. “There are no activities going on. It just feels like I’m in a movie scene where the world has just turned upside down.”
One of the major changes students have taken note of are those made to the dining hall and other food establishments on campus. Montgoris Dining Hall is now take-out only, meaning students can no longer sneak food out if they want to eat in their rooms.
“I like it, the food seems fresher, such as the salads and the sandwiches, and it’s nice to be able to eat outside or bring it back to your room,” Karabenick said. “I also love that it’s open later now, so you have more and new options after 10 p.m.”
In addition to the changes at Montgoris, the lines for other food establishments that used to loop through the buildings have drastically decreased.
“The first change I noticed was in DAC where the line for Starbucks was nearly non-existent,” junior sociology major Medina Surajpal said when asked how campus had changed. “Campus looks different through compliance with social distancing.”
Regardless of the changes to the campus atmosphere, students like Aditya and many others are continuing to try and stay active through clubs and organizations.
“I am a part of Alpha Phi Omega which is our service fraternity and I am the fellowship chair so I’ll be hosting online get togethers with them,” Aditya said. “As well as being on e-board for the Improv troupe, so we do practice twice a week on Zoom.”
“I think it’s crucial that people continue to stay involved so that they don’t feel isolated and lonely,” Altamura shared. “I will be going to campus once a week and will continue to be an active member of the clubs I have been a part of for the last three years.”
Jackie Alvarez-Vaca, a senior government and politics major, explained how she is very involved on campus, and although everything has gone fully virtual, there are still a lot of exciting events, especially ones to help freshmen and transfer students get involved.
“We have so many events and activities planned to keep students engaged and to help freshmen and transfer students find their home on campus,” Alvarez-Vaca said. “I’d definitely recommend following organizations on Instagram to stay updated.”
Even with all of the precautions that the University is taking this year – checking people before they enter campus, limiting class sizes, moving all meetings virtual, etc. – there is still some concern among students about being sent home early or being forced to go fully virtual again.
“It is concerning to think we may get sent home early because of the actions of a few. However, I know a lot of the students are taking precautions, as is the University,” Alvarez-Vaca said. “Plus, we are doing better than a lot of universities and we have made it through two weeks already.”
Aditya shared that while he thinks the University is doing a good job at attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19, there are some extra precautions they could be taking.
“I’d like to see them potentially implement thermometers to take people’s temperature at the entrance,” Aditya said. “While it won’t completely eradicate the chance of an outbreak, it will lower the chance.”
The Queens campus is a shell of its previous self with masked students, social distancing and fewer students physically on campus than ever before. Regardless of if you’re taking classes entirely online, commuting to campus or living on campus, it is clear that this year will be like no other.