The A.D. White statue is clad with a mask on a noticeably-emptier central campus.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The A.D. White statue is clad with a mask on a noticeably-emptier central campus.

September 24, 2020

Face Coverings, Hand Sanitizer and Silence: A New Reality On Campus

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The pop music was still playing downstairs in Willard Straight Hall Monday evening, but few students were dining inside Okenshields to sing along.

At Cornell’s only central campus dining hall, known for its early 2000s hits playlist and smiling staff, the crowds of students that once swiped in have been reduced to a trickle. The eatery went from serving about 2,000 students a day to about 350, according to Troy Buchanan, the Okenshields dining manager.

Now, after a few slow weeks, Okenshields temporarily closed Wednesday. Cornell Dining needed additional support at busier eateries, and the University has temporarily moved Willard Straight Hall dining staff to fill in staffing gaps, said Karen Brown, senior director of campus life marketing and communications.

“There was a lot more comradery between staff and students, like a ‘Hey how’s it going!’” Buchanan said Monday. “I miss the students singing and dancing in line. It’s a lot different from what it used to be. It’s just odd.”

With few in-person classes and a fraction of open study spaces, campus is quieter than usual — and students and staff are feeling it.

Signs adorn doors to study spaces around campus, advising social distancing procedures and occupancy limits.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Signs adorn doors to study spaces around campus, advising social distancing procedures and occupancy limits.

Along with many of the once-bustling campus common spaces, Willard Straight Hall remains empty — there’s no popcorn popping at the Resource Center. The Ivy Room is closed. Straight from the Market is closed. The living room area remains busy, filled with plexiglass and masked testing site workers and students.

Buchanan said he misses the popcorn, along with the students that used to fundraise upstairs, selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts and promoting clubs. Now, the Resource Center is gated off.

Sitting outside the Physical Sciences Building Tuesday afternoon, Kyle Chrystal ’21 said he only comes to campus when it feels convenient — either for his in-person chemistry lab or to spend some Big Red Bucks at Trillium. But the campus experience feels emptier and quieter, he said, and he misses running into his friends during the rush between classes.

“I miss casual interactions,” said Lexie Handlin ’23, waiting with Chrystal before their lab. “You have to go out of your way to see people now. It’s hard to put in the effort to see people.”

Studying and eating isn’t spontaneous anymore, either. Want to enter the Cornell Store? Swipe in and enter through the back entrance. Want dining hall food? Make a reservation. Want to enter a library? Show the library attendant your seat reservation.

Mann Library is much emptier this fall, and signs enforcing social distancing procedures are dispersed throughout the study spaces.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Mann Library is much emptier this fall, and signs enforcing social distancing procedures are dispersed throughout the study spaces.

Signs reminding students to make these reservations and mask up remain pasted and planted across campus, from the doors of empty academic buildings to TCAT bus stops. Posters remind students who enter designated study rooms: always physical distance. Sanitize shared equipment. No eating.

In Gates Hall, a lobby television screen posts Cornell public health reminders: “Fact,” the screen reads for a moment before flipping to another message, “Cloth masks can prevent you from inhaling the virus and can prevent you from exhaling the virus to others.”

Gimme! Coffee remains gated off and closed. The chairs and tables are gone. The pastry case sits empty, but the fridge is partially stocked with bottles of ginger beer and water.

Even campus common spaces that allow students to wander in feel slower and quieter. Masked students Zoom from Temple of Zeus, but there’s no chatter, no espresso machines whirring, no ceramic mugs clinking or metal trays laying around. Instead of joining lunches and office hours, students sit alone or in pairs.

The Klarman atrium, normally filled with students, sits emptier than usual during lunchtime on Monday.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The Klarman atrium, normally filled with students, sits emptier than usual during lunchtime on Monday.

Bottles of disinfectant and boxes of paper towels sit on the trash bins that once held used mugs and trays. Instead of indistinct chatter, students study and Zoom into class listening to clanging computer keys, footsteps, turning notebook pages, zippering backpacks and squeaky sneakers.

Sophia Jeon ’21 said she used to spend a lot of her days in Klarman Hall. But now, between her in-person classes, she said she’s spending less time there and more time outside.

“Zeus is just so quiet,” Jeon said. “It’s too quiet.”

And Olin Library? It’s open, but Jeon said she prefers not to go: “It’s not the same with Libe being closed.”

But with limited on-campus study spaces and online classes, Jeon said she finds students operating at a slower pace, lounging under trees and relaxing on the Slope.

“I see more people zoning out, being more present, more introspective, as opposed to being on the go and going to the next class and meeting,” Jeon said.

Update, Sept. 24, 2:06 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from Cornell on Okenshield’s temporary closing.