Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

On a warm October day, students sit underneath tents that have been station on the Arts Quad for over a month.

October 21, 2021

Students Flock to Tents for Outdoor Studying and Dining

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From the Arts Quad to North Campus, new tents have cropped up on Cornell’s campus this semester, some complete with flooring, lighting and tables. Students are using these spaces to eat and study while soaking up Ithaca’s fall weather.

Audry Hong ’22 and her friend Angeo Nugroho ’22 sat together at a table under an Arts Quad tent, catching up and enjoying a meal together. The two have made it a tradition to eat lunch together under a tent every week.

“It’s been really convenient, because you can’t get a seat indoors oftentimes,” Hong said, noting that students have filled up seating in popular study locations like Goldwin Smith Hall and Duffield Hall with the return of fully in-person classes this fall.

According to Senior Director of Campus Life Marketing and Communications Karen Brown, the tents come from the student and campus life office, along with individual colleges and departments. Last year, only the music department maintained tent space for practice and performance purposes on the Arts Quad.

Across campus, these departments and offices have set up tents outside in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The tents allow campus residents to spread out a bit more while they eat or study, providing some additional physical distancing to help keep everyone as healthy as possible,” Brown said.

Nugroho said she appreciated outdoor eating in the tents, especially during the pandemic as students crowd indoors

“I feel weird eating in an indoor space, so if you have boba or lunch it’s always good to just go out here,” she said.

Caroline Lui ’22 said she often eats in the tents outside of West Campus dining halls, worried about COVID safety inside.  

“The dining halls are really scary inside,” she said. “There’s a lot of people and it’s very crowded. The tents feel safer to me.”

Beyond meals, some courses have taken their classrooms outdoors, bringing lectures and seminars onto campus quads.

Kaitlyn Lee ’25 has recently started attending her freshman writing seminar — Science and Technology Studies 1128: Planetary Health: Plagues, Pandemics, Extinctions — outdoors under the main tent on the Arts Quad. For Lee, having class outdoors has been enjoyable and COVID-safe. 

“Even though it is a little distracting with people walking through,” she said, “it is nice to have the fresh air and spend time outside as opposed to inside, where there is very little space in the classroom.”

Clubs have also been hosting events inside the tents. All student organizations can reserve tent space to host their meetings and events through the Scheduling@Cornell website. This may prove especially useful for organizations that plan to serve food at their events, as Cornell student and campus life has prohibited indoor meetings or shorter events from including food or beverages, including coffee and small snack items. Outdoor meetings and events are allowed to have food and beverages if they are pre-packaged.

But for some students, the tents feel convenient regardless of COVID concerns.

Kieran Adams ’24 uses the tents mainly for eating but has also spent time studying beneath the structures. Even without COVID, Adams said he would find the tents a nice spot to eat, adding that he hopes Cornell keeps the tents up even as the COVID risk on campus dwindles.  

“Having this outdoor option is very useful, because they are generally empty enough, so it is a consistent spot while it is still nice outside,” he said.  

Still, it is unclear how much longer the tents will stay up — Cornell will take down the tents once Ithaca winter storms in. And since the tents are mostly a COVID safety measure, the quads might be clear of tents in the spring, too.

“Once the snow starts to fly, they’ll have to be dismantled, though we can still enjoy the campus’s many picnic tables and benches when the weather’s nice,” Brown said. 

Although most students embraced the outdoor tents, some said they were frustrated with Wi-Fi issues. For Lee’s writing seminar, the tent’s distance from academic buildings makes sharing course documents difficult, as the Wi-Fi connection is not strong in the tent. Hong described the internet connection under tents as “spotty,” and Lui called for more consistent Wi-Fi for outdoor areas on campus.

Still, students maintain that the tents are a hit.

”I think the University should definitely keep [the tents] up,” Hong said. “I love them a lot.”