How an empty campus has affected students staying in Ann Arbor

Tuesday, April 14, 2020 - 2:10pm

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Design by Maggie Wiebe

Instead of leaving Ann Arbor to go home, Nursing junior Rachel Quigley still works as a nurse’s aide at the University of Michigan Hospital to fill the growing need for health professionals during the coronavirus pandemic. She said, in light of her lung condition, it’s reassuring to see the hospital taking extra precautions to keep their staff on campus safe. 

“I love my job and the experience especially right now, it’s interesting to see how the hospital is handling the situation, and what my future workplace may look like if something like this were to ever happen again,” Quigley said. “I’m kind of worried about getting the virus but I trust the PPE (personal protective equipment). I have a lung condition so I can’t work with COVID patients, and they’re taking extra precautions in making sure everyone is safe.”

Quigley said campus looks vacant as people seem to be social distancing properly to help curb the pandemic.

“The campus looks very empty and bare, it’s really sad,” Quigley said. “If you walk into the Diag or near the other buildings on campus, it just feels kind of wrong … I’m glad though to see people social distancing. I’ll see when people are talking from different houses or groups, they are far apart. It looks like people are actually taking it seriously. And if people are partying, it looks like it’s just their housemates in their front yards.”

Engineering junior Simrun Buttar is still living on campus, primarily to keep her family members back home safe.

“My grandma lives at home with me in California and I’m kind of worried if I’m not absolutely sure I don’t have (the coronavirus), that I don’t positively put any member of my family member in danger,” Buttar said.

Buttar said it’s also helpful to be on campus for one of her engineering courses, which requires an extensive amount of understanding.

“It’s a class where I really struggle to learn the concepts, and I’ve tried a lot to go virtual with it, where my group member is in his apartment and I’m in mine,” Buttar said. “But, I feel it’s not the same substitutability as us being in-person.”

One difficulty she has faced with living off-campus is getting food, she explained. Buttar cannot get groceries as she normally would as she doesn’t have a car, Instacart is already working with a high volume of deliveries and the rental car services in Ann Arbor, like Maven, shut down due to COVID-19. She said she has since been using a meal plan at South Quad.

“Usually I’d just go to MoJo because it’s a lot closer to me and it’s my favorite dining hall,” Buttar said. “But now I’ll make the trek over to South Quad just because it’s the only one open, and I’m mindful of the groceries I still have because I know restocking it will be a challenge.”

Still, Buttar reflected on how an empty campus has allowed her to restart some of her old hobbies. For instance, she said she has recently started knitting again, ordered a paint-by-numbers set and started watching TV shows to keep herself busy.

University alum Markeidus Hall worked at Markley Dining Hall until it closed due to the novel coronavirus. He stayed in Ann Arbor in his off-campus housing to not put his mother, who has a compromised immune system, at risk. He said his time spent outside and exercise have dropped significantly given the stay-at-home order.

“Before everything closed, I was definitely playing basketball at the CCRB (Central Campus Recreation Building) and doing outdoor activities and stuff,” Hall said. “I also got a decent amount of walking in getting (to) and working at Markley Dining Hall, too, before it closed and they recommended us to stay at home ... Now, it’s basically a ghost town out there. The most exercise I get is pacing back and forth in my room.”

Hall graduated early last semester and reflected on the difficulties affecting his classmates graduating in the spring given the postponement of commencement and other activities pertaining to graduation.

“I feel bad for all my friends who were supposed to graduate in April,” Hall said. “They don’t get the opportunity to walk across the stage and to have their moment along with the things that come with it.”

Nursing junior Madeline Jones is staying at her off-campus home to avoid putting her dad at risk back home. Jones was recently hired as a hospital technician at the University’s hospital. She explained it’s beneficial to have her roommates in her classes to help with studying, but not all portions of her coursework can be made up online.

“The teachers are really nice and accommodating right now,” Jones said. “But the rest (of our clinical) is expected to be made up in August … housing will probably be an issue, and they’re telling people that they have to cancel their study abroads in August if they haven’t already.”

Jones said an empty campus has impacted her day-to-day schedule a lot and it helps her to get back into a routine.

“Campus is pretty dead,” she said. “I do see a lot of people out on nice days taking walks but even then, I can tell the streets are more empty … I’m trying to get a new kind of routine like maybe some yoga or exercise at some point in the day to feel more normal.”

LSA junior Diego Arvelo recently moved back home, but he originally hoped to finish out his lease at his fraternity house.  

“I thought it was best to stay in place as long as I could because it seemed that the less movement going on would be the better for the virus,” Arvelo said. “Eventually, I realized it was taking a lot more time than I thought, and it seemed the best option was to go home.”

Arvelo mentioned the difficulties remote learning placed on him, especially given the recorded lectures as substitutes for normal classes and the lack of access to libraries on campus.

“I found it difficult to stay focused since a lot of my classes are recorded and there’s no certain time to be at certain buildings, there’s no routine of going to the library every day,” Arvelo said. “I thought it would feel like having no school, but it actually felt like having more school, since it took me longer to get everything done.”

After classes went remote, Arvelo said he saw a lot of measures being taken by people on campus to promote social distancing.

“It was clear this was a big deal and all social stuff (at the fraternity) stopped,” Arvelo said. “People who lived in the house interacted only amongst ourselves … Especially toward the end, campus has looked very bizarre. If I go on a walk, I see restaurants operating out of their front windows when they can. It was funny also because (Good Time) Charley’s was still playing music and no one was there to listen. It’s good though. At least people are following the stay-at-home order.” 

Kinesiology junior Erika Barker resides on campus to protect her at-risk family from contracting the virus. While playing volleyball with her roommates on North Campus this past weekend, campus police enforced the suspension of exercise in public spaces on campus.

“They told us not to collect on campus, which is frustrating because Whitmer’s recent policy encourages keeping parks open for people to go out and exercise,” Barker said. “U of M has closed all of their outdoor utilities like the basketball court, the track, Palmer Field … The Diag is essentially closed as well. They are telling students to not hang out in public places on campus.”

Barker worried the closing of outdoor spaces will make it difficult for many students, including herself, to exercise every day.

“Our apartment is so small that exercising within the apartment is impossible especially when there’s six of us,” Barker said. “They are really trying to push for isolation, which I understand is very important, but it’s definitely frustrating for people who are still stuck in Ann Arbor or just on campus.” 

Reporter Saini Kethireddy can be reached at skethi@umich.edu.