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First-Year Students on Forming Community on Campus During Pandemic

Zack Miller | The PhoenixFor many first-years, finding spaces on campus to hang out with friends has been difficult due to strict COVID-19 regulations.

This story was originally posted March 22. It was accidentally removed during a website update and has been restored.

Before the spring semester started, James Wolf, a first-year finance major, said he knew this semester at Loyola wouldn’t be the typical college experience.

Courtesy of James Wolf Wolf spoke to The Phoenix about his expectations for his college experience.

“I wasn’t expecting much, but it’s still disappointing to not be able to do regular college things,” Wolf, 19, said. “During January and February, there weren’t many opportunities for us to hang out in a way that wasn’t at risk of being in trouble.”

The university welcomed back a limited number of students to live on campus at the start of the spring semester, including 899 first-years. These students were met with strict COVID-19 restrictions, including reduced use of the dorm lounges and blocked off booths in the Damen Dining Hall where students typically gather. 

Some first-years said finding a place to hang out with friends during the first months on campus has been challenging, and in some cases, students said they’ve been disciplined by university officials for breaking social distancing guidelines.

After the mandatory two-week quarantine upon move-in, students could only have one other student in their room while social distancing and wearing masks.

Students who are caught with more than one person in their room, with more than the allowed number of students in a common space or not social distancing can be reported to Loyola’s Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolutions (OSCCR) for disciplinary measures, The Phoenix reported

Tommy Phillips, a first-year English major from St. Louis, said he has had two disciplinary hearings about breaking COVID-19 distancing guidelines.

Courtesy of Tommy Phillips Phillips spoke to The Phoenix about his experience with OSCCR after breaking COVID-19 guidelines on campus.

Phillips said he was with two other friends in a room playing music and a resident assistant found out and wrote them all up for both a guest and noise violation.

“It’s a difficult situation to deal with because it’s just one extra person,” Phillips, 19, said. “I understand why the COVID-19 guidelines are in place and I understand the necessity for them, but they do inhibit the ways people can interact and hang out with one another.”  

The Department of Residence Life sent an email March 5 to students living on campus updating the guest policy. Students can now check in a current Loyola student who lives in a different dorm between the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to the announcement. The email said guests must be in compliance with the weekly COVID-19 testing requirements and must leave the building before 12 a.m.

Some first-years said they don’t think there’s adequate space on campus for them to be with friends.

Courtesy of Arnva Nanga Nanga spoke to The Phoenix about making friends on campus during the coronavirus pandemic.

Arnav Nanga, a first-year majoring in biology, said he and his friends tend to hang out in the dining halls and study near each other at the Information Commons. The Information Commons has limited spaces for students to study and gathering with other students is prohibited. The dining halls have some seating that is spaced six feet apart.

“There’s enough space for small groups, which is ideal for COVID,” Nanga, 19, said. “But if you’re trying to meet new people, it can get hard.”

Martina Gomez de la Torre, a first-year environmental policy major, said it’s difficult to hang out in common areas, such as the Damen Student Center, because of masks and social distancing.

Courtesy of Martina Gomez Gomez de la Torre Gomez de la Torre spoke to The Phoenix about how she’s determined to make friends on campus.

Gomez de la Torre, who is from Quito, Ecuador, said she has been written up twice for breaking social distancing guidelines in her dorm room and in the lobby of her dorm. She said she wasn’t given a warning for either write-up and immediately had to attend a hearing.

“After my first hearing, I realized there’s no possible way to hang out with people on campus,” Gomez de la Torre said. 

Gomez de la Torre said even though she has been written up twice, she is still determined to find friends on campus.

“Making friends has been a challenge for me as an outgoing person, so I can’t imagine how it’s been for other people who have social anxiety,” the 19-year-old said. “Loyola is underestimating how hard it can be to make friends.” 

Courtesy of Mackenzie Warnock Warnock spoke to The Phoenix about how she feels there’s a lack of spaces to hang out on campus due to some of the COVID-19 guidelines.

Mackenzie Warnock, a first-year psychology major from South Bend, Ind., said she and her friends don’t even try to hang out on campus.

“There’s no specific places to meet people on campus, you just individually go and do your own thing,” Warnock, 19, said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends large gatherings be avoided when possible. In Chicago, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. On March 8, the CDC released new guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals. Now, people who have received the vaccine can visit indoors with other vaccinated people without masks.

Stacey Jaksa, the director of the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, said Loyola encourages students to gather off campus, but in accordance with the guidelines of the city of Chicago. She said students are also advised to remain six feet apart from one another and to weak masks.

Courtsey of Jemima Abalogu Abalogu spoke to The Phoenix about her expectations for her college experience.

Jemima Abalogu, a first-year political science major from Westmont, N.J., said she deferred the fall semester and had to delay her life plan.

“College was the one thing that I was holding onto through COVID-19,” Abalogu, 18,  said. “It’s upsetting that we come to campus and still face the fact that we’ve lost so much time and the freshman experience.”

Phillips said he’s felt frustrated by the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

“I was prepared to begin this new phase in my life in college,” Phillips said. “It feels like that has been pushed back.”

Warnock said it’s been hard for her to see friends at other schools who have in-person classes since Loyola remains holding 90 percent of classes virtually, The Phoenix previously reported.

“You don’t really make relationships with people or have conversations over Zoom,” Warnock said.  

Some first-years said they’re hopeful the social aspect of college will improve with the warming weather, while others still aren’t optimistic about Loyola’s management of social events.

“There are more things to do outdoors that are also COVID-19 friendly,” Wolf said.

Despite the challenges of making friends, many first-years said they’re grateful for the opportunity to live on campus and the safety measures Loyola has put in place.

Nanga, who is from Plainfield, Ill., said he feels like Loyola is doing a good job managing COVID-19.

“We are losing a valuable year, but if we all stay safe, it’s worth it,” Nanga said.

Loyola sent an email to students March 9 that they are planning to have full occupancy residence halls and in-person classes in the fall 2021 semester.

Abalogu said she’s happy Loyola allowed students to be on campus this semester, but wishes things were different.

“My entire goal for the rest of college is to have nothing historic happen,” Abalogu said. 

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