The Other Side of the Common Room

Janie Tompkins/The Phillipian

Two weeks after my arrival on campus, I awoke to an email detailing post-quarantine life: after two weeks of delivered plastic-packaged soggy wraps, I’d be transitioning to plastic-packaged soggy wraps collected from Paresky Commons. As much as I did not expect it, I was immediately shocked by the increase of freedom after quarantine. I could even stay outside all day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and though we aren’t allowed in any buildings besides a select few (necessities such as the gym or Paresky Commons), there are tents set up on the fields for sheltered seating.

Of course, we still must wear our masks while outside; of course, we still aren’t allowed to hang out indoors with students from other dorms; of course, we still must adhere to these precautions to ensure we can stay safe. What makes no sense, however, is that we aren’t allowed to unmask with members of our dorm outside of our hall, or “dorm pods.”

As a boarder in Stevens, a dorm of four halls, or roughly twenty-five students, I’ve made friends across the halls. While we are physically farther apart from other halls than our own, we all occupy similar spaces and interact across the halls: using the same microwave, the same ice tray, and the same fridge. The intent is that if one person in the dorm contracts the virus, only their hall technically needs to re-quarantine as they are that person’s only “close contacts.” If anything, I feel less safe knowing that this is the case.

If one of us contracted Covid-19, it would inevitably spread across the halls, and I doubt there are any rules out there that could prevent it. I certainly hope the administration realizes that these restrictions would not prevent the spread of the virus. I certainly hope every member of Stevens would quarantine themselves for two weeks after the positive case.

The school expects students to social distance and stay masked, but members of the same dorm are still occupying the same space. As much as we wish it were the case, there is no foolproof method to prevent the spread of the virus, but the school’s rules tend to border on the performative side. I haven’t regretted for a second choosing to board this fall, but I want to feel safe without feeling like a character in some elaborate show.

Safety is felt—not shown. Dorm spaces are purposefully in close quarters, so why not embrace that fact rather than split us into halls or pods? We should quarantine as a dorm if someone tests positive, so if that is the case, it makes more sense to allow us to move freely within these spaces. It may seem as if the halls are a safer option than the dorms, but while this is true to a certain extent, dorms are a more effective safety net. I understand the rules need to stay strict, especially with the arrival of Cohort Two, but pre-quarantine rules should not necessarily become post-quarantine ones. Those of us who arrived in Cohort One have already lived here for a month, quarantining for the first fourteen days and testing each week that we’ve stayed here. At this point, expanding our bubbles from the halls to the dorms is, to me, the logical next step.

In the time that we have spent at school so far, my dorm mates and I have bonded over things small and large. So with them, at least, I don’t want to worry about regulations and rules. I would like to sit beside my dorm mates unmasked and binge watch Netflix shows. I would like to share my hot Cheetos and chocolate candies with them. I would like to walk to the common room for a banana without my mask. The world outside my window is a chaotic and crumbling place. At least in Stevens, I should feel safe, and these regulations should bring about more peace of mind, not more stress. Is it so much to ask that I can hug my friends from the other side of the common room?