Three students sit and chat while practicing proper mask-wearing and social distancing etiquette.

Upperclassmen move-in: Expectations vs. reality

I could’ve sworn the air was fizzing as I drove up College Avenue on move-in day, bubbling over with a months-old accumulation of nerves and anticipation. Like many Gusties, I’d been eyeing this day for weeks, wondering when and if it would ever arrive. Now that it has come and gone, I have to say it was not what I was expecting from a COVID-era move-in.
Some of my basic expectations were met of course, including the staggered move-in times, the mask requirement and the 2-person limit on who you could bring to campus. The staggered appointment system in particular made for a quiet, low-key, socially distanced move-in experience, especially because I’d arrived during the very last move-in slot on the very last day.
However, these measures meet only the most basic level of COVID-19 precrecaution — I must confess that my cautious summer-self was imagining much heavier health and safety measures. To begin with, given that colleges and universities have become the new COVID-19 hotspots, I was surprised to be moving in at all. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely thrilled to be back on campus with friends and feeling like a Gustie again, but being back on campus puts many students at higher risk than if they had remained at home.
As of Sept. 25, the New York Times reports that more than 1,600 U.S. colleges and universities, including every four-year public institution and every private college that competes in NCAA sports, have had a combined total of at least 130,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. Gustavus is currently at nine, but that doesn’t make us immune. Minnesota State University Mankato, our neighbor just 20 minutes south, has 129 cases right now.
Not only do both local and national statistics show the risk of reopening campus, but the high possibility of an outbreak presents quite a pickle. After all, if a large proportion of the student body is exposed and pushed into quarantine, where will they go? They can’t stay in their dorms and risk exposing even more people, and frankly the idea of being locked in a dorm room 24/7 for two weeks isn’t overly appealing. So, many students will want to go home, but that would endanger the communities and families that they are going home to. In short, even though the majority of Minnesota private colleges have reopened to some extent, the fact that Gustavus move-in day came at all was unexpected, given the risk involved and the dilemma of what to do in the case of a mass outbreak.
Another surprising aspect about move-in day was the lack of mandatory testing, or even screening, prior to arrival. Given that numerous small, private Minnesota schools like Carleton, St. Olaf and Macalester are requiring two rounds of testing upon arrival (one the day of, and one around two weeks in), I expected something similar here. Even universities like the University of Minnesota and St. Cloud State, who have a larger student/staff population and a greater proportion of students living off-campus, have implemented mandatory self-screenings that must be submitted and approved before arrival to campus.
GAC’s version of this is a recommended two-week self-quarantine before arrival as well as daily self-screenings completed via the honor code once on campus. This strikes me as rather precarious. After all, students who have jobs at home are unlikely to self-quarantine, and even those who don’t would not be psyched about self-isolating a week before they even know whether they are returning to campus at all.
Although Gustavus is not alone among private Minnesota colleges in its use of these measures, I expected move-in day to be accompanied by a round of testing in order to better track and identify the COVID-19 cases on-campus (if any), especially the asymptomatic ones.
The last unexpected aspect of move-in day was the lack of college presence at the dorm. I expected there to be ROAR members, CFs, residential life staff/workers, someone to enforce the mask and social distancing requirements during the move-in process. This expectation may come in part from my own pre-COVID move-in experiences, when the typical practice was to check-in to your dorm at a table at the front entrance and receive guidance and assistance; regardless, moving in can be a frustrating and laborious process.
Carting crates and boxes and refrigerators up and down the stairs is not easy, and under such circumstances, the hassle of social distancing and mask wearing might appear more of a disposable nuisance than a necessity. For this reason, I expected there to be some type of college presence at each dorm to hold people accountable.
Overall, the COVID-19 measures at move-in day were less comprehensive than I was expecting. Health and safety measures were implemented at the basic level, and their following was pretty much left to the discretion of students and their helpers.
All that said, Gusties were definitely up to the task. My COVID-19 move-in experience was quick and efficient with minimal safety scares. The self-accountability of my fellow students in the way everyone followed the guidelines gave me a sense of security and hope that perhaps the Gustavus community can tackle this semester with only a few bumps and bruises along the way.
Despite the extra challenges this year, I am glad to be back. The only thing left to do now is watch the case count within the next two weeks with fingers crossed because, by then, we will know the true effect of the move-in policy.

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