Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor
Throughout the last few months, Residence Life has adopted several policies for the fall semester to increase health precautions in residential halls on campus. As students moved into their dorms this past week, these policies have begun to dictate how students can operate in a safe manner and limit the spread of COVID-19.
According to Lindsay Norman, dean of residence life, the largest change to campus residential policy is that students are no longer allowed to visit dorm buildings outside of their own hall. Key card access has been restricted, so now students can only enter their own hall. This deviates from the traditional visitation policy, in which students can visit any hall during designated hours. Students are no longer allowed to enter halls they do not inhabit. Further, students are not allowed to enter the dorm rooms of other students, regardless of whether they live on the same hall. Those living in suite style apartments, including Centennial, Thomas Berry and the townhouses, are also restricted from entering their roommates’ bedrooms.
“Only students that are assigned to a residential space can enter that residential space,” Norman said “That’s huge. Probably the biggest change. So, if you’re in Centennial in a four-person suite, only those four people are allowed in that common space there, and only you are allowed in your bedroom.”
Common areas in residential halls also have regulations to encourage social distancing. As Norman explained, while common rooms, including study areas, kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms are still open, they function slightly differently. As students are no longer allowed to enter residence halls other than their own, they are similarly not allowed to use common areas in halls that are not their own. Further, markers have been placed in common areas to block off seating that is less than social distancing requirements for the college. Cleaning materials, including hand sanitizer and sanitizing spray, are available in common areas for cleaning. Norman recommends students prioritize washing their hands as the best means to stay clean and limit waste.
“Common rooms are still open and could be used by two people that live in the same building, two people from Morgan, two people from Deerfield,” Norman said. “There are posted limits in terms of capacity. Washing your hands after using the space is the best thing to do, even more so than wiping potentially. I do think wiping is important, but I also think about waste. Wipes can cause a lot of waste, so washing your hands uses less resources.”
Residence halls with shared bathrooms will operate differently than usual as well. According to RA Noah Miller, junior, students will need to adapt to new capacity limits for these enclosed spaces as well as the new guidelines to help regulate them. Students will wear a mask while in the bathrooms and will further be given clips to help the hall keep track of how many people are in the restroom at a given time. For example, Miller’s hall bathroom, third floor Deerfield, has a maximum of four students.
“Whenever you go into the bathroom, you will have a clothespin with your name on it, and you will put it outside the door,” Miller said. “So, obviously, if there are a number of clothespins on the door already that are at capacity, you’ll have to wait until someone leaves.”
As Norman further described, while emergencies happen and students will be permitted to use the restroom if they direly need, Residence Life has created these new policy limits with social distancing guidelines and usage in mind. RAs have been encouraged to create bathroom schedules for the morning to ensure an easier flow.
“We went through and looked at how many sinks, stalls and toilets were in each space, plus we considered how big the spaces were and how many entrances and exits,” Norman said. “Then we try to imagine how people could safely distance and have a stall between them.”
The ways in which RAs interact with students have changed as well. As Miller explained, Residence Life will not be able to host many of their regular events for the .
“Our large events have been cancelled for the fall semester,” Miller said. “So, we will not be able to have late nights and we will not be able to have area wides.”
Further, Residence Life plans to slightly alter health and safety inspections. According to Norman, those inspections will still occur this semester. However, they will look different. RAs will remain outside in the hall, and survey rooms for health and safety violations from the doorway to avoid going inside and experiencing more intensive contact. In a similar vein, if an emergency does arise and a student needs immediate help in their room, RAs will be allowed to enter to provide that help.
“If there’s an emergency, or if there’s something that’s happening that requires them to go into the room, they certainly are able to as long as they’re wearing a face covering,” Norman said. “Health and safeties, we will still have them, but we will try to survey the room from the edge of the room. We’ll only go in if we have to. We still want to do our work, we want to make sure it’s safe, and we obviously want to help residents in need, so yes, RAs can go into a space.”
Nonetheless, Miller said that RAs still want to be able to build community and connect with their residents. Rather than using some of the more traditional methods, instead RAs will now be working to build one on one relationships with their residents and build community by being intentional. Individual hall programs will still exist, with safety guidelines implemented. Further, students can still come to their RAs if they get locked out of their rooms, have problems or just need to talk. They just must remain socially distanced and wear masks during all interactions.
“I think the most important aspect of our job is community building,” Miller said. “And I feel like that hasn’t changed too too much due to COVID.”
In general, both Norman and Miller stress the patience that students should have with Residence Life this semester. As Miller explained, by enforcing policies set by Residence Life and Berry administration, RAs are not simply trying to get students in trouble. They just want to keep people safe and prevent the spread of illness.
“Please don’t hate your RAs, because we didn’t choose it,” Miller said. “We’re just following what we’ve been told. But also, know that these policies are our best option for staying here the entire semester.”
Norman further explains that this is an unprecedented situation for everyone, and anything could be subject to change at any time. As she explains, to some extent students can control their own safety, and should do whatever they can to prevent themselves, their friends and the broader community from getting sick.
“Students have some ability to control when they go into quarantine,” Norman said. “Keeping your distance, wearing your face covering, and washing your hands. There are some things students haven’t thought about, like reducing the number of people in a car. But I think we all have the ability to work together to stay in person, and that just means following those guidelines. I understand the urge for normalcy, but I know that that kind of gathering can send people to quarantine. That’s going to be surprising to people.”