Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students eat dinner in one of the Kay Hall lounges on Nov. 3. Empty rooms have become a normal sight around campus, with common areas de-densified to enforce COVID-19 restrictions.

March 31, 2021

Students Raise Concerns as Residence Halls Decrease Lounge Access

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As Cornell moved to COVID-19 yellow-alert and cases continue to climb, some residence halls are restricting dorm lounges and common rooms across campus — removing furniture and closing off rooms to limit student gatherings.

North Campus common rooms in Mews Hall, Court-Kay-Bauer Hall and other residence halls have seen notable changes. The increase in positive cases on campus, as well as COVID safety violations such as failing to social distance or wear masks, has led the University to change lounge policies, according to Tim Blair, executive director of housing and residential life.

In North and West Campus residence halls such as Mews Hall and Hans Bethe House, building managers have removed some furniture from common spaces. While the University originally hoped students would follow capacity and distancing guidelines, Cornell now is going building by building to remove excess seating as necessary, Blair wrote in an email to The Sun.

According to Harry Samuels ’24, president of the Mews Residence Hall Council, Mews staff removed chairs and tables from the study rooms to reduce the number of students in any one room at a time. Extra furniture has been pushed to a multipurpose room that was previously a study space.

William Biederman ’22, a Bethe resident, also said the common rooms in his residence hall were mostly stripped of furniture to discourage gathering. Common rooms in Bethe now seat only two to three students, and building libraries have similar capacity caps.

On North Campus, CKB closed all lounges in the building from March 8 through March 15 after the residence hall reported at least 25 student behavioral compact violations. After reopening the lounges, according to co-president of the CKB Residence Hall Council Zoë Robbins Rutkovsky ’24, building managers removed some furniture into the hallways to discourage gathering.

Robbins Rutkovsky said she felt closing the lounges had negatively affected students — describing that when she asked her resident advisers how friends can eat together, they told her to eat in her room while Zooming with friends. Robbins Rutkovsky said she feels this decision is frustrating, as students living on North Campus now get tested three times a week.

Students across campus said they were skeptical about the effectiveness of removing lounge furniture. Biederman said he worried about the recent case spike, but doesn’t think decreasing lounge capacity is the solution. 

“People will congregate whenever they want. There is really nothing the University can do to stop that,” Biederman said. 

Samuels worried that removing furniture could increase the risk of the virus instead of lowering it, saying that limited study rooms and scarce tables are forcing students to work closely in the same rooms in Mews.

“By taking away an entire study space, you have now moved students closer to each other, because they now have to congregate in the same lounges instead of different ones,” Samuels said. 

He added that his residence hall removed furniture before the spike in cases.

“It seems like they [de-densified] in advance, but it obviously didn’t work,” Samuels said. 

Samuels, among other students, understood the reasoning behind the lounge changes but said he felt the University could take more effective steps, as students cannot socialize or work collaboratively in their dorm buildings, and COVID-19 spread continues to occur on campus.

“In the past, lounges have been a great social space to eat with friends and to study,” Robbins Rutkovsky said. “It’s difficult to not be able to have a meal together.”

Update, March 31, 6:20 p.m.: This post has been updated to include comment from Tim Blair, executive director of housing and residential life.