April 7, 2020

JONES | Staying Sane Living on Cornell’s Campus Amidst the Pandemic

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I can’t be a productive full-time student, responsible newsreader, model citizen and happy person all at once these days.

Red-eyed from sleeplessness, cell phone in hand, I quickly change my pajamas to sweatpants and a T-shirt before leaving my room. The time is 10:30 a.m., and it’s time to get dinner before sleeping until 6 p.m., I tell myself – my sleep schedule has reached an all-time low. It’s only Day 8 of official quarantine on Cornell’s campus, but I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve stayed up all night to watch the sun rise.

Eventually, I arrive at Becker House Dining Hall, greet the ID swiper/cashier six feet away, repeat my identification number out loud and stand in line. I tell the servers my food desires – they prepare the food in disposable containers and place them on a “pick-up” food table to maintain the six feet social distancing rule. Gone are the days of self-serviced food, handing over ID cards to be swiped and eating with friends in the dining hall.

I bump into some friends outside the dining hall. We catch up briefly before retreating into our dorms. I gain a moment of reassurance and laughter after hearing many of them have also been staying up past sunrise.

In case you’re wondering, despite staying up all night, I have not been productive. I admit it, I’m addicted to technology: YouTube videos, Quora answers, video games and late night FaceTime/Zoom calls with my girlfriend. I have been recently learning about and investing a few dollars in the stock market, since this is an opportune time. I’ve also been trying to teach myself computer science for fun. But I’ve done nothing related to my academic coursework – sometimes I forget I’m a college student. It’s a good feeling.

Perhaps this freedom and lack of responsibility is what I need to remain happy and sane on Cornell’s campus though. The pandemic has seemingly given us all so much responsibility within too short a timeframe. Within the span of a few weeks, students were forced to either stay in Ithaca or leave and never return — while worrying about moving out, saying final goodbyes to friends and pondering what will happen to classes and commencement.

I’ve also noticed that there seems to be a sharp divide of opinion regarding social distancing on campus. I’ve bumped into some of my friends who wear masks and refuse to come within six feet of anyone. I’ve also bumped into other friends recently in Klarman Hall playing cards at a table. And while I am not advocating for ignoring social distancing, I’ve noticed that the friends who hang out with others appear much happier.

This socialization and happiness correlation is especially prevalent outside of Cornell. It seems many local Ithacans appear unfazed by the pandemic. Roughly a week ago, I walked to Ithaca Falls, where I spotted many families spending time together, two fishermen reeling in successful catches and friends posing by the waterfall. Although I understood they were technically violating social distancing guidelines, I couldn’t help but feel warm watching other people living freely and happily.

This contrasts notably with the University’s attitude towards social distancing. Seemingly every few days, a radical change occurs in the dining hall system — from changing the way we get our food to eventually closing every West Campus dining hall except Becker. Recently, I’ve taken walks around campus, and most of the buildings I visited are locked and/or have signs stating they are closed due to Covid-19. Even Cascadilla Gorge, one of the closest gorges to Cornell, is shut down. This is a little bit ironic since Ithaca Falls is open. Cornell’s current reality is sad, but understandable. Cornell and Ithaca really do seem to be two separate, distinct worlds sometimes.

Through all of this, I have learned that there needs to be a balance between freedom and responsibility. It doesn’t help to be reckless — consistently ignoring social distancing guidelines — but it also doesn’t help to live inside your dorm always, avoiding people at all costs and experiencing loneliness and depression.

My secret to staying sane living on campus is to carefully balance both ends of the spectrum, relieving myself of some responsibilities while ensuring to practice social distancing. Twice a week, during the daytime, I try to take walks around campus. It’s admittedly tough and I am a little paranoid these days, with crimes running rampant in the city, but it’s worth it. It’s also nice seeing other people outside of my dorm occasionally.

I’ve detached myself from other responsibilities, like having a normal sleep schedule and reading the news every minute. I already know that classes are here and the coronavirus is spreading rapidly – I’d rather not be reminded.
Nile Jones is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at njones@cornellsun.com. Rivers of Consciousness runs alternate Mondays this semester.