Signs on Boldt Tower on West Campus remind students to wear masks and restrict access to the building. Thousands of students are set to move into campus dorms this week.

Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Signs on Boldt Tower on West Campus remind students to wear masks and restrict access to the building. Thousands of students are set to move into campus dorms this week.

August 23, 2020

New Cornellians Arrive in Ithaca as Fall Semester Gets Off to a Bumpy Start

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Students from states on New York’s travel advisory list are in the middle of 14-day quarantines. Resident advisers, scrambling to welcome students into dorms, have returned to work after striking for hazard pay and better protection. Ithaca College has backtracked on an in-person fall. Classes are set to begin in less than two weeks, and many Cornellians will register for classes the same week they move in.

It’s a bumpy beginning to an on-campus fall semester. Students from restricted states have started quarantining on campus, many have already settled into Collegetown apartments and thousands more will flock to Ithaca this week — moving into their dorms with two suitcases, a backpack and no parents to help them.

For first-year students, it’s not the start to college they imagined, especially those spending their first two weeks in Ithaca quarantining in a North Campus dorm.

Jessica Sylvester ’24 of Jamaica said she spent her first night of on-campus quarantine sleeping on her travel pillow in a Clara Dickson Hall single. Her first morning, she wandered around campus trying to find the Fischell Band Center testing site.

As students began moving in, some who arrived in the evening moved into their dorms before getting tested. At a Tuesday town hall, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi said these students were tested first thing the next morning.

Students quarantining on North Campus leave their dorms once per day to pick up food from a tent on the Court-Kay-Bauer quad.

Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students quarantining on North Campus leave their dorms once per day to pick up food from a tent on the Court-Kay-Bauer quad.

Sylvester arrived late Monday night and was tested Tuesday morning, but said a series of communication breakdowns complicated her arrival.

Cornell housing is providing quarantine bedding, but Sylvester said she didn’t receive details on where to get it, only stumbling on packs of linens when she picked up her student ID at Robert Purcell Community Center. She shipped most of her belongings to her assigned Low Rise 6 dorm, only to find out the day before arriving she would quarantine elsewhere.

Now, Sylvester said she only leaves her dorm to pick up her meals, often sandwiches and wraps. She plans to spend the rest of quarantine watching Netflix and picking her fall classes.

But so far, the experience doesn’t really feel like quarantine, Sylvester said. No one is enforcing the rules, she said, and communal fridges and bathrooms leave points of contact with other residents.

“I don’t feel like I’m quarantined. If I really want to leave my room or leave my building, I could. No one is stopping me. You’re allowed to do whatever,” Sylvester said. “It’s just up to you. Even though Cornell has the behavioral compact, I don’t see anybody there to enforce and threaten consequences.”

While Cornell told students quarantining on campus to remain in their rooms, Sylvester said she saw other residents doing their laundry when she left the dorm to get tested. Since she shares a bathroom during quarantine and leaves her dorm daily to pick up food, Sylvester said she doesn’t feel so isolated.

“We’re in quarantine, but not really,” Sylvester said. “I see people all the time in the hallway walking to the bathroom. I see people going to get food, in the shower, in the restrooms beside me. I’m constantly seeing other people.”

The Fischell Band Center COVID-19 testing site.

Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The Fischell Band Center COVID-19 testing site.

But John Wang ’24 of Clemson, South Carolina, said on Tuesday he has only run into one person in his residence hall during so far.

He spent his first full day of on-campus quarantine playing the video game League of Legends, taking a break to pick up food from a tent on the Court-Kay-Bauer quad (lunch on Tuesday was a Caesar salad). The first-year eats his meals in his dorm, and said he isn’t allowed to use the microwave, so the food is all cold.

Wang said his parents encouraged him to come to campus, even as some friends back home stayed in South Carolina instead of traveling to their universities. But he said he wonders what kind of college experience he will have this fall.

“[My parents] think that the freshman experience is kind of unreplaceable,” Wang said. “I agree with that, but on the other hand, what kind of experience am I getting in my dorm room playing League of Legends 12 hours a day? I can do that at home.”

Still, for Karen Winslow ’24, leaving her Idaho hometown and settling into campus isn’t something she can do at home. After canceled preview days scratched her first chance to visit Ithaca, Winslow said she’s thrilled to see campus beyond virtual tours when she moves in next Saturday.

“I’ve lived in the same town in Idaho basically my whole life, been around the same group of people,” Winslow said. “I definitely want to go out to the other side of the country. Even if my classes are online and I’m in my dorm for most of it, I’d be fine with that. It would be a new experience, a new environment.”

Winslow is spending her two-week quarantine at her roommate’s house on Long Island, where they’ve virtually met with their academic advisers, shopped for dorm additions and watched movies as they await move-in.

First-years who have already moved into North Campus are settling into a fall semester that is set to take place in-person. But Wang said starting the semester alone in his room, talking on the phone to friends from home isn’t how he hoped to start college.

“It’s not that bad. I can still talk to my friends from home,” Wang said. “But it definitely doesn’t feel like college. You live in a dorm, you expect the community, you expect to meet new people. This is not an exaggeration: I’ve seen one person in this entire residence hall and we didn’t even talk, we just walked right past each other.”