Sophie Corbett is a journalism sophomore. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
It’s 2019. Your dorm room is finally complete and is decked out with a wall tapestry, fairy lights and a letter board. Mo Bamba is playing through a speaker in the second-floor common room of Yosemite Tower 9. Girls are in and out of each other’s rooms, swapping tops to coordinate. The theme is “80s in Aspen.” After going out, you stay up all night with your roommate hatching a plan that tomorrow you WILL muster up the courage to talk to Steven on the first floor. This is the “college” many incoming freshmen have been looking forward to.
Moving into your freshman year dorm is a rite of passage that marks the beginning of your first taste of independence. Unfortunately for the incoming freshman class, the dorms look a lot different this year. In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, only 5,150 students will be living on campus instead of the normal 8,500, and dorm rooms will be single occupancy. Despite these safety measures, bringing back thousands of students to live on-campus unnecessarily puts the community at risk. The likelihood of transmission is high in dorms. Students are going to socialize with other students, and not all of them are going to follow CDC guidelines 100 percent of the time.
Dorms are designed to be social environments. When you put a bunch of socially starved students in a tempting setting, chaos will ensue. After months of being in quarantine, these students will be hungry for some social interaction and eager to make college friends. Dorm parties are still going to happen. Off-campus parties are still going to happen. For a lot of incoming students, COVID-19 is not going to stop them from experiencing college life. And when somebody living in the dorms inevitably does get the virus it’s going to spread. Dorms are notorious for being breeding grounds for germs. De-densifying the dorms, implementing mask-wearing policies and strict social distancing rules will help slow the spread, but it won’t stop it altogether.
One of the safety measures that University Housing has implemented is single-occupancy dorms. While single-occupancy rooms sound like a great idea to mitigate the spread of germs, there might also be some unintended consequences. Freshman year roommates are like built-in friends. It’s who you navigate the first few days of college with because you’re not ready to branch out on your own yet. When you don’t have anybody to go to the dining hall with yet, you ask your roommate to go with you. When you want to introduce yourself to the cute boys living down the hall from you, you ask your roommate to come for moral support, because going by yourself is just too intimidating. When you want to go buy a sweatshirt at the campus bookstore but you’re afraid of getting lost on the way there, you ask your roommate to go with you. The first few weeks of college can already be lonely, and not having a roommate will make that so much worse. Without the safety net of a roommate, students will be more likely to socialize with other people on their floor.
While RAs exist for the purpose of ensuring the safety of all residents and enforcing rules, it is going to be extremely difficult to police mask-wearing and social distancing all the time. RAs can’t have eyes everywhere at once. In my experience in the dorms, RAs run the gamut on strictness. Some RAs try to enforce rules all the time, while others are a bit more relaxed and occasionally turn a blind eye to things. With RAs not able to enforce rules all the time and some choosing not to, it will be impossible to ensure that every single student is being safe all the time.
The bottom line is that bringing more than 5,000 students into the dorms puts their health and safety at risk as well as the community. Many schools like the University of Notre Dame, University of North Carolina, San Diego State and Chico State have suspended all in-person instruction and are sending students home just weeks after they have moved in due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Why is Cal Poly going to be any different? While everyone wants fall quarter to be as normal as possible, it won’t be. As much as every freshman deserves to experience dorm life, it poses too much of a risk. Bringing back 5,000 students where the majority of them will have completely virtual class schedules clearly does not serve the health and safety of Cal Poly students and the surrounding San Luis Obispo community. Not if, but when, a student in the dorms contracts COVID-19, it will spread like wildfire.
Instead of a “normal” freshman year, it will go something like this. It’s a Friday night two weeks after you move in. You blast Mo Bamba while you get ready to go out. At the crowded frat party, one of the attendees has COVID-19. Everyone at the party becomes infected. You quarantine in your dorm for a few days before Cal Poly ultimately decides to shut down the dorms. You’re absolutely miserable. This is the new college experience in 2020.