In a message from President Armstrong, students were informed on Aug. 25 that freshmen living on campus would be put in single dorm rooms for the 2020-2021 academic year.
The plan detailed that no more than 5,510 students would be allowed on campus.
“It is true that congregate living facilities like residence halls pose a higher risk of transmission,” Armstrong wrote in the campus-wide email. “It is also true that we can mitigate that increased risk so that it remains low.”
Other than those living in the Cerro Vista and Poly Canyon Village apartments, freshmen live alone in double, triple and quad rooms. In the South Mountain, yakʔitʸutʸu, Yosemite, Sierra Madre and North Mountain dorms, students share communal bathrooms by floor or cluster. Rooms are separated by gender.
Some students said they are happy to live alone. Among them is mechanical engineering freshman Vivian Knudsen, who lives in the Yosemite towers.
“I feel like it’s the best of both worlds because my roommate is right next door, so I can call her whenever I need,” Knudsen said. “But then I also have my own space to chill.”
Knudsen said she has found the transition from practicing gymnastics five hours a day, five days a week to being in quarantine and socially distant challenging, but she said she has managed to stay busy by getting her friends together.
“I like to say ‘Onwards and upwards,’” Knudsen said. “I’m not going to spend a bunch of time just wallowing in self-pitym because it happened to all of us and we’re ready to embrace what we get.”
Software engineering freshman Rayan Gendre said he felt strange for his first couple of days on campus “getting dumped in some random place” and being left alone. Since then, he said things have gotten better.
“My floor is kind of really social, so I don’t really feel like I am living alone,” Gendre said. “When I need something we have a group chat for my right wing, so we just text in there.”
Construction management freshman Luke Method said he does not feel isolated, but he said he recognizes that living alone has drawbacks.
“I definitely like having more space and not having to deal with people,” Method said. “At the same time, I think having to deal with people is a good experience.”
Since freshmen are living in dorms with students from their college and no longer in residential learning communities, students are generally interacting with the same group of people.
“I feel like it was really easy to meet the people in our dorm, but then those are the only people that I’ve met,” Method said.
However, some students are struggling to live alone.
Kimberli Andridge, a psychologist from Cal Poly Counseling Services, said that the department is seeing an increase in feelings of isolation and loneliness among patients as well as an increase in pre-existing disorders like depression and anxiety.
“It’s not just living alone, but it’s the amount of isolation that’s happening,” Andridge said. “It’s that ‘I have this apartment that I live in by myself and I’m spending the bulk of my time there, because the classes that I used to go to to get out of my house, I’m not going to, the friends’ houses that I used to go visit, I might not be doing that to the same degree,’” Andridge said.
English freshman Janae Pabon said she has mixed feelings about living in single dorms.
“It’s kind of nice to have people all around me, it’s still a social community,” Pabon said. “It’s kind of like being in a house, but in your own room.”
Pabon said she noticed her anxiety heighten due to COVID-19, and she said it worsened when she arrived on campus.
“When I’m with people I don’t really feel anxious, but when I go back to my room alone at night or I’m trying to sleep I definitely feel anxious,” Pabon said. “I get panic attacks and random spurts of anxiety.”
Architecture freshman Arielle Rose-Finn said she feels lonely and isolated from the people in her dorm.
“I feel a little bit disconnected from a lot of the people in here,” Rose-Finn said. “I can hear them always chatting in the hall and next door and going out, and I haven’t really done much of that.”
Despite feeling this way, Rose-Finn said she is glad she does not have a roommate.
“If there was someone else living here, especially if there were two other people living in here… I think I would probably feel suffocated,” Rose-Finn said.
Rose-Finn said she dislikes having her study space be the space she relaxes in. Although, Andridge said that sleep can be harmed if students work and sleep in the same area.
“The bed is for sleep and sex, and that’s it,” Andridge said.
One drawback of living alone, according to journalism freshman Le Claire, a self-described extrovert, is less socialization.
“I love being with people and back home every weekend when I wasn’t working, I would always go out with my friends or just hang out,” Le Claire said. “Now that I’m not hanging out with people on a consistent basis, it’s definitely a mental adjustment to my new life here.”
When she is struggling with her mental health, Le Claire spends time journaling and listening to music.
However, Andridge said that some students do not have the capacity or necessary skills to better themselves during these times.
“I think that there is a pressure that’s placed on us around how we’re supposed to respond to being quarantined, like use this as an opportunity for growth and for development, and I think if somebody is able to do that, that’s wonderful, but we’re not all able to,” Andridge said. “My hope is that people can have empathy and compassion for themselves if that’s not accessible to them.”
Andridge recommends students utilize the coping skills that they have developed in previous challenging circumstances to help themselves now. Keeping oneself socialized and forcing oneself to have human connection is also valuable.
Students should make sure to go outside, take breaks from the news, structure their day and keep their eating, sleeping and socializing patterns intact, according to Andridge.
“We’ve heard students’ concerns about accessibility and difficulty making that first point of connection,” Andridge said.
As a result, Counseling Services has changed their structure, offering 15 to 20 minute first-time meetings to assess a student’s situation and come up with solutions moving forward, Andridge said.
Students do not have to wait a long time to get an appointment, as they are available to schedule for as soon as the next day, Andridge said.
Counseling Services includes crisis services, emotional well-being workshops as well as group, couples and individual therapy. They are also offering support spaces for LGBTQ+ students and social isolation groups. All services are being offered through HIPAA-compliant Zoom, and services are free and confidential for those enrolled at Cal Poly.
Student Diversity and Belonging offers programs that allow for social connection with students who are experiencing isolation and discrimination, specifically LGBTQ+ students and students of color, Andridge said.
There has been an increase in alcohol and drug use, according to Andridge. If students notice they are using alcohol or other substances to cope, they should reach out to Campus Health and Wellbeing services, she said.
“We are open if students are wanting anything, needing anything,” Andridge said. “If we’re missing any services that feel important, let us know because we want to offer what our students are asking for.”