190 on-campus students adapt to new COVID-19 guidelines as Spring 2021 continues remotely

A sign outside Branca Family Patio advertises Occidental’s new Tiger Takeout program. Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

Occidental announced remote instruction would continue into the Spring 2021 semester Nov. 30 with a limited number of students living on campus, including newly-added resident advisor (RA) positions and routine testing for all on-campus residents. The college is providing on-campus housing for approximately 190 students who applied to live on campus across five residence halls, making accommodations for international students and those facing housing hardships, according to Director of Residential Education and Housing Services (REHS) Isaiah J. Thomas.

According to the Nov. 30 update, on-campus students, staff and faculty living or working on campus are required to be tested for COVID-19 twice per week. According to Senior Director of Student Wellness Sara Semal, students selected to live on campus needed to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to their arrival on campus and were also given rapid tests soon after moving in.

“Congregate living is a higher risk environment as it offers increased opportunity for transmission through close contact,” Semal said via email. “Emmons, REHS and the COVID Operation Group have put together comprehensive guidelines for community living to prevent spread.”

According to Bia Pinho (sophomore), living on campus this semester feels more restricted compared to her first-year experience. However, Pinho said, due to the duration of the pandemic, the campus’ health and safety requirements concerning COVID-19 are very adaptable and reasonable.

According to Semal, if a student tests positive for COVID-19 or is unable to provide a test prior to their arrival on campus, they will be immediately sent to an isolation room in Berkus Hall for a 10-day quarantine, where the student will have their meals delivered and will take part in daily health checks.

“Students in isolation may continue to go to class [virtually] and may request accommodations in the event that they are symptomatic,” Semal said via email. “Students in isolation may also access counseling resources and support as needed.”

According to Pinho, one of the most noticeable differences in on-campus life this semester is the fewer number of people and interactions on campus.

“It’s weird, I was just used to having conversations with people while I was brushing my teeth, or something, and now there can only be one person in the bathroom at a time,” Pinho said. “Small things like that don’t happen anymore.”

Julia Thompson (junior) and Cayleigh Lekven (senior) work on a bench in the academic quad. Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

According to Thomas, the most concerning feedback REHS received from the fall semester was that on-campus students felt isolated. As a result, REHS has resumed their RA program for the spring semester and allowed residents to live near friends. Additionally, Thomas said REHS and Emmons Wellness Center have plans to pilot a visitor program, where on-campus students can register other on-campus students to be permitted for a visit to their room.

“REHS is deeply committed to the student residential experience, even during COVID-19,” Thomas said via email. “We will continue to listen to residents about their experiences and identify ways to make their homes a bit more ‘homey.’”

Due to the health and safety requirements on campus, Darla Chavez (senior), an RA in Wylie Hall, said many of her traditional responsibilities as an RA have been adapted to create a safe living environment. According to Chavez, RAs in the past have relied on in-person interactions and programming to best support their residents, but now they use virtual interactions to engage with residents and ensure their safety.

“We really have to be mindful and creative about how we want to continue to engage with students, especially given the pandemic and COVID safety guidelines,” Chavez said.

According to Teagan Langseth-Depaolis (senior), an RA in Bell-Young Hall, having virtual interactions with her residents was strange at first, since she prefers in-person interactions, but has found the change to be very adaptable.

“Essentially it’s just like Oxy, I mean all of our typical days have been moved online,” Langseth-Depaolis said.

According to Langseth-Depaolis, despite a less lively campus due to the pandemic, she feels she can happily graduate since she was able to spend her last semester living on campus. Langseth-Depaolis said living on campus has allowed her to have a more normal college experience, which is something that remote learning was not fully able to provide.

“I definitely feel like I’m having more of what my normal college experience was being on campus,” Langseth-Depaolis said. “Just being able to go in the Marketplace and say ‘hi’ to the people I know in there and that are working, it just feels quite normal.