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Students living in Greek houses navigate COVID regulations.

March 17, 2021

In Group Living Spaces, Students Face Restrictions in Their Own Homes

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From Zooms to masks to biweekly testing, Cornell has gone lengths to maintain social distancing and contain the spread of the virus on campus. 

But for students who live together in large homes, often connected through organizations such as co-ops or Greek life, these living communities add additional risks and responsibility for students during the pandemic.

One of the most popular group living options for students is Greek chapter houses. Students in these houses live in communal spaces with about 30 members and are subject to additional COVID testing requirements, such as undergoing surveillance testing three times a week instead of two. While living in a Greek house is meant to bond members of a chapter, virus regulations have made it much harder for residents to socialize. 

“We’re supposed to wear masks in every common space in the house, unless you’re in your room,” said Eaveryll Henriquez ’23, president of Alpha Phi sorority. “You’re also supposed to wear a mask when you enter someone else’s room.” 

These restrictions have changed the atmosphere, Henriquez said, describing that the social activity in the house has dwindled since last year.

“Because of corona, no one is really hanging out in the shared spaces anyway,” Henriquez said. “There’s not that much going on in the house anymore.”  

Henriquez described the process the house goes through when a member is diagnosed with COVID, including an electrostatic cleaning of the bedroom, bathroom and stairs where the positive case was identified.  

Students in other group housing have expressed that it has been fairly easy to deal with the virus, even as they are exposed to a greater number of contacts. 

While Cornell sets the virus restrictions for on-campus housing, in group houses, students often have to agree on ground rules among themselves. 

“We have a house meeting to discuss our own policies,” said Aliza Saunders ’23, who lives in a co-op. “We’re as strict as the University is for the dorms, but make other considerations for how comfortable we feel.” Saunders’ house decided on a policy that allows masked guests.

When navigating COVID restrictions in these group settings, Saunders said the biggest challenge has been understanding each other’s varying comfort levels.

“People logically, morally and emotionally have different ways of feeling nervous or scared about contracting COVID or getting their friend’s sick,” Saunders mentioned. “Like anything, you have to make compromises and have open communication.” 

Maria Tollock ’23 also lives in a large group environment, residing in the Alpha Xi Delta sorority house. 

Tollock described that members living in the house eat dinner six feet apart and make reservations to avoid crowding the dining room. They’re also required to wear masks at all times when inside the house. 

Although Tollock said she believes the protective measures in residences are effective, she said she felt campus academic settings need more enforcing.

“I had an in-person prelim where there was no social distancing and I heard students coughing around me,” Tollock said. “If social distancing is enforced in group living spaces, it should be enforced in academic spaces as well.” 

Another common group living situation for students are the townhouses that typically house around five to 10 students. David Thuman ’23 lives in one of these houses in Collegetown with eight other students. He described that the restrictions have made it much more difficult to interact with students outside of his home. 

“Because there are nine people already located in the house, having outside friends over is more difficult and complicated,” Thuman said. “Within the people in the house, we have to coordinate when each of us are having our friends over so there aren’t too many people at the house.”

Thuman said he feels there’s a trade-off, weighing the social benefits of group living that can ease pandemic isolation with the increased risk of contracting COVID-19. But Thuman said that trust between roommates can help minimize this risk. 

“I trust my roommates’ judgment on having friends over that are both safe and trustworthy within their own friend circles,” Thuman said.