A place to call home in uncertain times

By Tabitha Whissemore

While campuses close, on-campus housing remains open for some students who have nowhere else to go.

Twenty-eight percent of community colleges have on-campus housing for students. During the coronavirus pandemic, these colleges kept their residence halls open to students who had nowhere else to go. Here’s how a few of the colleges are working to ensure students living on campus stay healthy.

The residence halls at New York’s Onondaga Community College can house 827 residents. Right now, 21 students are living in the halls. Those students have been given sanitary wipes to keep their living areas as clean as possible. They also are having meals delivered to them three times a day by food service staff.

The residence life staff also are creating ways to keep all students engaged and feeling like part of the campus community, according to OCC’s executive director of communications, Roger Mirabito.

“We have a very strong bond with our students and understand that, in many ways, we are their family. Their space on campus is their home,” Mirabito said. “If due to life circumstances they need to be here, we understand that and will assist in any way possible. One of the things that distinguishes us is that we think about students in their full humanity. It’s as important now as ever.”

Crowder College in Missouri decided “out of an abundance of caution” to close its residence halls on March 27, said Mark Aubuchon, director of campus life. Normally, there are about 250 students in the halls for spring semester.

“Shared living and bathroom spaces are difficult to keep clean during normal times,” Aubuchon said. “It became clear that living in a shared space made staying in the residence hall too risky for their safety.”

There will be about eight students staying on, though, due to extenuating circumstances. To keep those students healthy, those students will get hand sanitizer, hand soap and towels. No external visitors will be allowed in the halls until at least the middle of April.

In rural Montana, Dawson Community College will continue to house 37 students in its residence halls. That’s down from about 130 students living on campus. The units are “apartment style” and don’t share heat or ventilation, Leslie Weldon, vice president of advancement and human resources, said. Students will still have access to the cafeteria, but it’s now set up for grab-and-go and students can grab as much as they need.

The biggest challenge is spreading the students out that currently want to stay on campus when other students still have things in their rooms. Weldon said college staff are working to find solutions.

Despite the challenge, shutting down the halls wasn’t a possibility, she said.

“For many students, campus housing is their only option. We will continue to practice social distancing, but we will also continue to house and feed our students,” she said.

Students who remain on campus will have paid jobs helping to clean campus.

“Dawson Community College is working tirelessly to ensure the safety of all students, employees, community members and families. While there are currently no confirmed cases at Dawson Community College or in Dawson County, we fully understand the seriousness of COVID-19, and will make every effort possible to protect our people,” DCC President Scott R. Mickelsen said.

Tabitha Whissemore

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.