Some OU freshmen have found themselves forgoing typical campus and dorm life due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of in-person classes.
Others, who were unable to live off campus, have been forced to navigate social etiquette and friend-making while also trying to comply with university COVID-19 regulations.
Instead of being in the crowded dorms, Georgia Bomar, a freshman whose major is undecided, spends her days at her home in Arizona, doing homework from her bedroom.
Before the 2020 fall academic semester, OU announced its COVID-19 response, stating while the university would attempt in-person instruction in the safest manner possible, larger classes would move online. This transition affected a majority of freshmen classes.
Bomar said she decided to move her classes online and not move on campus after reevaluating the pandemic and struggling to work out her housing contract.
“I was going to move on campus. I was trying to get my roommate situated. We were having some issues with her contract and my housing contract, but we were trying to figure it out,” Bomar said. “With everything being online, no one was in the housing offices to answer phone calls, so there's just a huge backlog of people, which is completely understandable. It was just like, who's going to answer? The offices are empty, and email is just hard, (so) people have to sort through those, and it’ll take a while.”
Bomar said as the fall move-in announcements from OU increased, so did her stress.
Bomar said dealing with the mandatory testing and the complicated guest and move-in policies made her re-evaluate moving in. The growing dread regarding move-in and feelings of isolation in the dorms drove her to start a conversation with her parents about moving her classes online and staying home.
Bomar said she then filled out a form to cancel her housing contract, also citing her mental health as a reason she wanted to remain home for her freshman year.
“I knew everything was going to be shut down in the halls — it wasn't going to be the typical college experience,” Bomar said. “Knowing myself, if I'm in my room all day, and I don't talk to people … it's not good for me mentally.”
Bomar said she received an email from OU housing granting her exemption request based on her exclusively online class schedule. She has been participating in her class remotely since then.
Other students like Claire Grace, a freshman communications major on a pre-law track, said she experienced difficulty in receiving a housing exemption.
Grace, who said she was an at-risk student for several reasons, said her mother was uncomfortable with her living in the dorms. She said she now lives by herself at Cross apartments — housing originally intended for upperclassmen — after some struggle with housing and the Accessibility and Disability Resource Center.
“It was difficult. My cousin's son goes to OSU as a freshman, and he literally just said, ‘I don't want to live in the dorms,’ and they let him out of his contract,” Grace said. “For me, I had to go to the Accessibility and Disability Resource Center.”
Grace said filing through the ADRC was a complex process of getting documents from her doctor and having her final request granted through OU Housing.
“It was definitely a more difficult experience than it should be, especially in a global pandemic when you think they would be more lenient,” Grace said.
In an email to The Daily, OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said the university policy requiring first-year students to live in freshmen-designated housing is still in effect, and students who had underlying conditions or were at risk were encouraged to reach out to the ADRC at any time they needed assistance.
OU's director of marketing and communications for OU Housing and Food Services Amy Buchanan also said in an email to the Daily that "there were no changes in the policy as it relates to COVID-19.”
Bomar's exemption from living in the dorms based on strictly online classes is not explicitly mentioned in the policy. The policy does, however, say that students with verifiable exceptional needs that cannot be addressed are applicable for exemption.
While other students are doing classwork from home, the freshmen who moved into the dorms find themselves navigating social life among strict COVID-19 policy.
Cassidy Middlebrook, a freshman psychology major, who currently resides in Couch Tower after moving from Adams, said they were unable to stay home for their first school year. Not wanting to deal with the hassle of finding an apartment or transferring to a different school, they ultimately chose to move into the dorms.
Middlebrook said dealing with students not following protocols has been their biggest concern.
Middlebrook said it’s been “nerve-racking”, detailing how they see many students not wearing masks, and parties going on in other residents’ rooms.
“One time I came out of the shower and got in my pajamas, and when I came out my room was full of people. My (previous) roommate had invited a bunch of people into a room (unmasked), and I had to ask them to leave,” Middlebrook said. “Some people just don't have much regard for any of this.”
OU’s current policy requires students to wear masks outside of their dorm room and strongly encourages wearing one if visitors are present in the room. OU also requires students to wear a mask around others if social distancing or at least six feet is not possible.
Middlebrook also reflected on the confusion surrounding quarantining upon exposure.
Middlebrook said during their stay at Adams, their suitemate contracted COVID-19 after having numerous gatherings in the dorm. Middlebrook said they went and got tested. When they looked for further instruction on what to do in terms of quarantining, their RA confirmed they didn’t have to do anything differently if they didn’t want to.
Currently, according to OU’s coronavirus FAQ website, students who have known exposure to COVID-19 are advised to alert their campus health clinic, fill out a COVID-19 screening form and wait for further instruction upon known contact.
Middlebrook said they received limited information after filling out the form. They said parties continued and they knew several people on the floor had contracted COVID-19 before moving out.
For the students who are safely meeting through the pandemic, GroupMe and socially-distanced university gatherings have been the main hub.
“Most of the people that I've met were during my first days in person at some of the little gatherings they had set up for freshmen. The rest I've pretty much met on the group chats,” Middlebrook said.
For the freshmen who chose to live at home for this year, meeting friends has been a more complex process.
“I don't know what it's like on campus. ... I'm trying to find some roommates for next year. It’s like I'm starting over a little bit, but I've made some connections with some people in my classes,” Bomar said. “I definitely have some people, but it's probably less than if I was on campus.”
Bomar said her experience off-campus has been positive, as she’s found time for herself to explore different interests and to spend time with her family. She also said, with all of her classes being online, she’s able to pace herself and enjoy the material she’s learning.
“It's been almost like a gap year because I still have a lot of time to do other things and explore other interests and hobbies. So I actually have really liked it. … I've been able to just be myself,” Bomar said.
Grace also said although her living situation at Cross has had its negatives, it has also been mostly positive.
“I feel like I've missed out on a lot of opportunities to make friends just because a lot of hallways in the dorms are really tight-knit, but at the same time I feel like I still have been able to make a lot of friends,” Grace said. “I can still go places and see people in a safe environment, but I'm not in a space where I'm constantly worried about getting COVID-19.”