It’s a tale of two Cornells: There are parties, bars and profane bedsheets; but also panic, hasty departures and those self-quarantining after studying abroad. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some students are scrambling for plans to self-quarantine while others defy social distancing.
On Saturday, daytime yard parties — colloquially known as “darties” — dotted Collegetown, including one at the East Seneca Street annex of a Cornell organization. Hanging from the house’s balcony was a bedsheet-turned-banner, spray-painted to read “I’m not fucking leaving,” just a day after President Martha E. Pollack’s announcement to cancel classes starting Friday at 5 p.m.
Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi condemned these parties in a Sunday afternoon email, writing, “Some students – particularly those living off campus in Collegetown – have chosen to use the suspension of classes to host or attend large parties,” he wrote.
“Hosting or attending a large party is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing in this moment,” he continued.
In a GroupMe called “martha can’t make us leave,” with over 2,000 student members, the conflict these parties posed to social distancing was on full display –– revolving around the Catherine Street Block Party scheduled for Monday –– an event usually held post-finals week in May.
As of Sunday evening, most Facebook events for the Catherine Street Block Party had been taken down. One Facebook event, that was started and then canceled, had 459 members that marked “going or interested” at one point.
Lilian Hawkes ’21, currently trapped in Sicily, Italy, posted in the GroupMe chat denouncing Monday’s planned block party, stressing that the event may be “the reason [COVID-19] spreads to the Ithaca population.”
“Like I’m sorry we lost our last semester here,” Hawkes wrote in the GroupMe, “but this is really not the way to handle it.”
After Lombardi’s message, however, Caroline Dudley ’20, one the block party’s proponents, posted in that 2,000 person GroupMe: “Block Party is [canceled] given Public Health concerns.” It is unclear if the party will take place on Monday.
Collegetown bars have also been busy since Pollack’s original Tuesday announcement — which said at the time that classes would be canceled after spring break. On Wednesday, lines for Level B and Hideaway stretched down Eddy Street.
At Loco, hoards of students visited over the weekend. “It’s been pretty packed … I was surprised by how many people were inside [the bar],” said Jacob, a bartender at Loco.
The condemnation for the events were echoed across campus. Moving her daughter out of North Campus on Sunday, Ella Ilan said she felt “very torn for the students.” She understood how “sad it is for them,” but expressed the need to practice social distancing.
Jeanette Melgor, another parent moving her first-year out, was shocked that students weren’t acting with precaution, noting the counterintuitive nature of the parties: “The reason why we’re moving out is [social distancing].”
Students who escaped Europe — witnessing the pandemic’s fury — held a more urgent attitude toward the virus.
Livia Caligor ’21, who was studying abroad in Paris, France, watched the disease unfold. Caligor flew from Paris-Charles De Gaulle Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport on March 12, noting a complete lack of screening for COVID-19 at either airport.
“I chose to go home when Cornell was giving us the choice,” she said. Cornell gave Caligor the option to leave on March 5.
Now self-quarantined in New York City, Caligor shared her frustration with this weekend’s parties.
In quarantine, Caligor lives isolated in an apartment. She has her own mini-fridge, and a small kitchen. “In the city I really love being out,” Caligor said. “I got home three days ago and I’ve been doing pretty much nothing.”
“People don’t really understand the privilege they have to throw those block parties,” said Caligor. Her family in China can’t leave their homes besides one the occasional grocery run by one family member, she said.
Brianna Patek ’21 attributed her escape from a study abroad program in Madrid, Spain, to a 2:30 a.m. phone call from a frantic friend: Patek thought that President Donald Trump’s European travel ban applied to her
And while she realized later that day that the ban did not apply to U.S. citizens, Patek made a dash for home: New Jersey, where she’s now self-quarantined.
Patek paralleled the situation she experienced in Spain to that in the U.S. today.
“I’ve seen how bad it got in Europe. I had to basically run from Spain, I see how bad it’s getting here and how unprepared we are.”
Patek — calling from her basement — said that despite the boredom that comes with self-quarantining, it is necessary. Three days into self-quarantining, she’s passing time by facetiming friends “just to have that social contact,” and occasionally walking through her basement’s storm door to get fresh air in her backyard.
“Hearing that there’s all these huge packed parties, I’ve seen the pictures, I know that this block party is happening tomorrow,” Patek shared. “People really need to start taking [COVID-19] seriously.”
Lombardi urged students to depart Ithaca as soon as feasible, noting a possibility of domestic travel restrictions and plead that students try to “flatten the curve.”
Correction, April 11, 12:10 p.m.: A previous version of this article included a quote that was used without permission from a source, this quote has since been removed from the story.