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Residence Halls Welcome Back Students After Nearly a Year of Empty Dorms

The low rumble of the Residence Life move-in carts filled Loyola’s campus during move-in week Jan. 13 to Jan. 27 for the first time since March 2020, when students were forced to move out due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The university welcomed back just under 1,100 students to on-campus housing this spring, 899 of them being first-years, according to Residence Life Director Deb Schmidt-Rogers. In fall 2019, before COVID-19, about 4,600 students lived on campus.

With move-in shifted from its original August 2020 date came changes to dorm life for students, including each student having their own room in order to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in dorms.

Fifteen residence halls on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus are currently housing students while St. Louis Hall, Campion Hall and Mertz Hall are being used for a combination of exposure quarantine and isolation, according to Schmidt-Rogers.

“We had to do a lot of prep work,” Clair McDonald, assistant director of assignments, marketing and communication in Residence Life, said. “We did a lot of research on what’s working well at other universities.”

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Claire McDonald, assistant director of assignments, marketing and communication in Residence Life, gives directions to a student.

Despite the work put into setting up residence halls in August, there were some parts of move-in that couldn’t be brought back due to the risk of spreading the virus.

“One of our favorite things to do for move-in is to have volunteers to help make that process smooth and seamless,” McDonald said. “Unfortunately that’s not safe to do right now.”

Students were allowed to have one person help them move into their dorms, but were encouraged to follow a one-hour time limit to get all their belongings into their rooms, according to Schmidt-Rogers. 

Zack Miller | The Phoenix A student moves a cart of her belongings into Francis Hall, Loyola’s newest residence hall.

Following move-in, students retreated to their assigned rooms to begin a two-week mandatory quarantine. During this time, students are only permitted to leave their rooms to be tested for COVID-19 on campus, according to Schmidt-Rogers.

Students living in dorms without a kitchen receive meals twice a day — lunch and dinner — which includes breakfast for the next morning, according to Schmidt-Rogers. Those living in apartment-style dorms with kitchens received a meal kit at move-in including 14 days of meals that can easily be heated up.

Students who are found to be breaking quarantine protocol will be reported to Loyola’s Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, Schmidt-Rogers said. 

Eva Gureghian, a first-year biology major, said she thought the move-in process was smooth overall, especially compared to her experience moving her sister into the dorms at another university. 

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Students picked up carts in Loyola’s parking structure near Chainlinks, the student-run bike shop.

“It feels nice to be staggered from other people, it’s not so crowded,” Gureghian, 18, said. “Just for convenience too, besides COVID-related stuff. … It was easier than I expected overall.”

She had only visited campus once prior to moving in, and said she looked forward to the end of the mandatory quarantine period.

“It’ll be really nice once our quarantine is over so we can head out and look around,” Gureghian said.

Seamus Sweeney, a first-year student, was one of the 1,900 Loyola students who had planned to move onto campus Aug. 17 before the university decided to keep the dorms vacant for another semester just 11 days prior to the move-in date. 

“For me, it doesn’t feel real,” the 19-year-old communications major said. “I was supposed to move in in August. … I can’t believe I’m actually here now.”

In August, Sweeney drove from his home in Florida with his dad, Patrick Sweeney — who graduated from Loyola in 1989 — to quarantine with family before heading to campus. 

“To be honest with you, at that point there was a question whether or not he would choose to come back at all,” Patrick Sweeney said.

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Signs across campus helped guide students to the right buildings during move-in.

Despite the usual difficulties of moving in being mixed with a global pandemic, some students thought the pandemic, as well as the added restrictions, didn’t change the gravity of the moment. 

Jessica Dragovich, a first-year studying early childhood and development, said the feeling of moving to college remained the same in spite of everything else.

“It’s a lot different because we have to social distance but it isn’t taking away from the excitement of being here,” Dragovich, 19, said. 

Following the 14-day move-in quarantine, students will be able to use common areas in dorms and have one visitor in their room from the same building, according to Schmidt-Rogers.

“I hope that they will visit with one another in lounges, I hope that they will visit with one another in kitchens, I hope that they will become friends with the people in their residence hall,” Schmidt-Rogers said.

Schmidt-Rogers said Residence Life will work with the Wellness Center and other university officials to decide whether or not students will be allowed to have other visitors in their room after monitoring the spread of COVID-19 for a few weeks.

A previous version of this article misspelled assistant director of assignments Clair Mcdonald’s name. It has since been corrected and we regret the error.

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