The first day of winter semester, I woke up to an egged door and a missing lightbulb. Apparently my two roommates and I had made an enemy without even knowing it. Already, there were some noticeable differences from my first semester experience in the Bursley Residence Hall.
My friends and I are subleasing a basement apartment unit from two girls who decided to not return to campus for the winter semester. Perhaps the egging occurred because they hadn’t gotten along well with their neighbors. This is our only theory, so we are sticking with it.
Being a freshman is overwhelming. Add the stress of apartment hunting to the mix and you’ll be drowning in homework all the while trying to find roommates and a place to live. Additionally, everyone has different needs and preferences when it comes to their living arrangements. But for freshmen wanting to stay on campus for the winter semester there wasn’t much of a choice between living in the dorms or finding less-than-ideal housing off campus.
On Nov. 6, the University sent out an email detailing their plans for the winter term: “Undergraduates who don’t need to be on campus should remain at their permanent residences for the semester and study remotely.” My heart sank when I read the email. A few days after Schlissel’s email, a follow up email from Michigan Housing cemented my disappointment with the words: “Michigan Housing is terminating undergraduate housing contracts for Winter 2021.”
I wasn’t expecting to leave the friends and place I was told would be my home for the next year so soon.
As Thanksgiving drew closer, my friends and I began to pack up our belongings. Instead of leaving Ann Arbor for a month-long winter break, we were now leaving Ann Arbor for nine months. The mood in the dorms was somber to say the least. That was until I started hearing that some freshmen were looking for off-campus housing.
Freshman Madison Bowron was one of the many students in Bursley that started looking for off campus housing after the email was sent out. However, unlike her friends, she ultimately opted to stay in the limited capacity dorms. She filled out the Winter 2021 Semester Housing Consideration form whereby students with extenuating circumstances could request to continue living in the dorms.
It was after a month spent searching for housing with her friends when she decided that staying in a single dorm room in the residence halls was the best option for her.
“I made the decision the day before we had to sign the contracts. I know I didn’t want to stay home just because I cannot focus there, but this was my last choice to be honest,” Bowron said.
Bowron’s decision primarily stemmed from financial and spatial constraints.
“There was nothing in my price range or that had enough space to do online school so this was just the cheapest alternative. I have my own room which is great,” Bowron said.
After moving out of a double in Bursley and into a single in South Quad, Bowron expressed satisfaction with the switch.
“The facilities are so much better,” she said. “I don’t even understand why we were paying the same price for what we had up there. The showers here have doors. It’s crazy. The food is actually so good this semester.”
Similar to Bowron, freshman Jackson Morgan looked for off-campus housing too. Even though he started his housing search later than Bowron, he ended up finding a place that met his needs at the YOUnion.
“I tried for a little bit to get a group of three and that ended up falling through, so I had to rush right around Christmas time to find a place,” Morgan said. “It definitely wasn’t easy.”
He ended up signing a lease to be added on as a tenant in a four-bedroom apartment at the YOUnion with three strangers. The other three students living in the apartment needed someone to fill the empty room.
Morgan says that the YOUnion is “a good place to be,” but his only regret is not trying harder to find housing with the friends he made in Bursley.
“Not one of [my current roommates] really tries to make an effort to be social or to be a friendly which is a little weird,” he said. “It would’ve been great to still be in Bursley. As much as Bursley sucked, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to still be there with everyone.”
Because the majority of freshmen were not allowed back in the residence halls this semester, the University lost control of issues relating to COVID-19.
“The school can’t do anything about it anymore. When we had the stay at home order in the fall, I know [my friends] were all terrified to go do anything because we all thought we’re gonna get kicked out of housing,” Morgan said. “Now, they can’t really do much.”
Morgan admits that he still doesn’t understand why they terminated the housing contracts for freshmen.
“I knew that everyone would just try to get back on campus somehow, and it still doesn’t really make sense to me why they did it,” he said. “Especially for the people that couldn’t manage to come back to Ann Arbor, it was really unfair to them.”
Freshman Joy Davis was one of those people. After living in Bursley first semester, she was unable to return to Ann Arbor this semester due to financial reasons.
“All of [my friends] getting a house made me want to stay but I knew I couldn’t afford it so I knew I was going to go home,” Davis said.
Because she lives in-state, she has been able to visit her friends in Ann Arbor on the weekends.
“Those [visits] have been the highlights of my semester,” Davis said. “I don’t feel like I’m at college when I’m at home. It’s like I could have gone to any online school anywhere and gotten that same education at home in my room and I’m paying a ton to get this one, but these visits make it worth it.”
Davis, a self-proclaimed extrovert, has felt that her mental health has tanked since being home. Many students’ decision to return to Ann Arbor was largely grounded within the words “it’s for my mental health.” For those that did not return, a semester of online school at home has left students feeling not only mentally drained but socially isolated. The possibility of being a student at home with only your family, split up from the friends you made during your first semester, propelled freshmen to look for off campus housing in Ann Arbor.
After being back at home after leaving Bursley, freshman Olivia Arndt already wanted out.
“We were on break and it was like two weeks in and I was like ‘no,’” Arndt said. “My family was driving me crazy so I was like ‘I gotta get out of here,’ so I started looking at apartments at the end of November.”
Arndt and her current roommate, freshman Leah Hoogterp, settled on 618 South Main after searching for housing on Craigslist. They share a one-bedroom apartment.
My current roommates and I, freshman Kaylyn Allen and freshman Chloe Valentino, also started looking for off campus housing at the end of November. After a few weeks of searching, we signed a lease for a unit in a multi-family home. Our unit happens to be the basement of the house, so making a conscious effort to go outside every day has been critical. With it being winter and classes being online, it’s easy to stay locked inside all day.
The semester began with hours spent chained to our desks on Zoom calls. With Panhellenic Primary Recruitment being entirely online, it was even harder to find time to go outside.
“[Rushing a sorority] was long and tiring in a different way than if it probably wouldn’t have been if it was in person,” Valentino said. “It was definitely a lot. I never really understood the concept of Zoom fatigue until I did that.”
During this time, all three of us were on zoom calls at the same time. Our internet connection was so weak that we were constantly being booted out of our respective Zoom calls. This was not a problem any of us had to deal with last semester when using the University’s wifi in the residence halls.
We ended up upgrading our wifi plan. Now, instead of paying $10 a month, we pay $20 for the internet. Unfortunately, even with the upgrade, I still experience moments where my internet suddenly stops working.
“It kind of makes it difficult to learn when you can’t even be in class,” Valentino said.
Along with having to deal with issues like paying for our internet, finding time to cook and clean the apartment are two extra tasks that were done for us while at Bursley.
“I don’t mind cooking, but sometimes when I have a really busy day … I don’t have time to cook in between my classes, because between my classes I’m trying to finish up other assignments,” Valentino said. “So, there are a lot of microwaveable meals on my busy days.”
Despite having the luxury of being cooked for and cleaned up after, the residence halls last semester had their fair share of issues.
“I think that food and other services were not as top notch as they could have been, especially at the rate [at which] we were being charged,” freshman Kaylyn Allen said.
It is actually less expensive for us to live off campus this semester – including grocery bills, internet, and utilities – than it was to live in Bursley last semester. Even though cooking can be a hassle, it is nice to have the freedom to make what we want to eat.
In essence, this is a very different freshman experience than I originally anticipated for myself when I walked into my dorm room for the first time in August.
With three different personalities in a two-bedroom apartment, we’ve had our fair share of tearful heart-to-heart conversations. In most cases, these talks have stemmed from issues surrounding cooking and cleaning, or the lack thereof.
This semester has taught me that communication is key. Going through my first apartment experience with some of my best friends has definitely been a learning experience, but a good one at that.
“It’s nice to have people who are going through the same things you are going through,” Allen said. “We actually signed a lease for next year before the one we have now so it just seems like the right decision to move in together now.”
My roommates and I still see most of the friends that we made on our floor in Bursley regularly because they are also living in off-campus apartments.
“We are like the ‘Friends’ apartment because everyone is always here,” Valentino said. “It’s fun because we get together and everyone just wants to see each other and hang out and get a break from being in their own apartments.”
“It’s nice to have a common area,” Valentino said. “Unlike in the dorms the common area is also your bedroom, so if [our living room] gets a little messy I don’t have to sleep in there.”
This semester has had its fair share of highs and lows. We have dealt with strep throat, the flu, a number of covid scares, and a trip to the ER, to name a few. But, through it all, we have been there for each other. The fact that I’m living with my best friends has made it all worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Now, with a cleaned, eggless door and a new lightbulb, we are ready to take on the rest of the semester and any new challenges that may come along in stride.