The Students Left Behind When College Campuses Empty Out Due to Coronavirus Fears

Every weekday morning, Siân Lewis calls her brother on FaceTime and spends an hour doing yoga, stationed on the porch outside her apartment on the campus of Davidson College.

It is normally a prime place to see classmates crisscross campus. Now, it is just Ms. Lewis and the birds.

More than 90% of the 1,761 students who usually live on campus at Davidson in Davidson, N.C., have departed. The school, like almost all others around the country, sent students home last month in an effort to minimize their exposure to the coronavirus that has swept the globe.

But not everyone could leave due to issues including tight finances, unstable home situations or travel restrictions. Those who stayed behind are now living on shadow versions of their campuses, sequestered inside for long stretches, emerging to pick up to-go meals from the dining hall and maybe for exercise, then back to the dorms. They are taking classes online, seminars meeting over Zoom and study groups meeting on Google Hangouts, and earning pass-fail marks rather than grades.

“We’re craving social intimacy,” says Ms. Lewis, a 21-year-old from Coventry, England, who couldn’t return home because it was expensive and international travel was canceled. “But that can’t happen.”

Ms. Lewis sits in her on-campus apartment, alone, a lot. On nice days, she explores the running trails, spotting an occasional deer. She does her schoolwork, attending classes via Zoom. The yoga routine helps keep the days from merging.

Samuel Owusu, a Davidson junior, is one of just two or three students in a dorm hallway that usually houses 32. Decorations still cover most of the doors, which he says give an eerie sense of normalcy. The telltale sign it isn’t normal is what he doesn’t see: the sneakers, umbrellas or lacrosse sticks that usually clutter the hall. And there is barely any music.

“The silence can be a little bit deafening,” said Mr. Owusu, who chose not to go home to Chicago in part because of finances and fear of endangering his guardians, who have underlying health conditions.

Students at Davidson have to pick up their food in to-go containers. They stand 6 feet apart as they wait their turn, and are served by staff. Some have been eating outside as the weather warms, though Davidson President Carol Quillen and others occasionally issue reminders to spread out a bit more.

Bryce Perry-Martin, a senior, usually just brings his food back to his room. He lives in a four-person suite; two of the others left, and he is grateful one roommate is still there for company.

“It’s sleep, eat, work, work out, sleep, eat,” said Mr. Perry-Martin, 22. “There’s not much going on.”

The weight room is closed. Spring football is canceled. The defensive lineman is getting training suggestions from a strength coach, but sometimes finds it hard to concentrate when he goes to the field for a workout because his mind wanders to the pandemic and what will happen after he finishes school and graduates into what he says feels like a very different world. “It just hits you,” he said. “Everything’s completely different.”

Davidson opted to keep its remaining students in whichever dorm rooms they had already been living in.

“We didn’t want to cause them any more disruption than we needed to,” said Ms. Quillen, adding that the setup helps enforce social distancing for students and facilities staff.

For the first few weeks after most of her classmates went home, Madeline Fitzgerald could go a full day without seeing another person on campus at Mount Holyoke College in central Massachusetts. She would take her evening shower in the communal bathroom, but the motion-sensor lights sometimes turned off mid-shampoo since nobody else came in to wash up.

To continue reading, please visit: