Living on campus in a pandemic

By Hailey Hensley

The spring semester of my junior year absolutely did not go the way I planned. 

News editor and current campus resident Hailey Hensley.

Granted, it did not go the way anyone had planned. The days of club meetings, conferences and sitting in the hammocks by Centennial Lake all vanished, seemingly without warning.

I was on the west coast when things really hit the fan. I went on a short trip to attend a one-day conference and visit a friend in Portland, Oregon. When my flight left Newark on March 11, I had no idea I would be coming back to a ghost-town just a few days later. 

My roommate and I had already been approved to stay on campus during spring break. We were both planning to work and spend a relaxing spring break on the campus we love. However, email after email began to show me that the dream of a normal semester had been pushed out the window. 

As Rider began sending the emails mandating every student to go home immediately, I  was suddenly confronted with the real fear that I would be left with nowhere to live and no roof over my head. 

My mom is a two-day drive away in South Carolina, and quite frankly, there was no way I would be able to stay there for more than a week or two, even if I could get there. So, I sent in my email request begging for an exception from Residence Life, pleading to be allowed to remain in residence on campus. 

I waited for days with bated breath, hoping to receive one glorious email that would lift a million tons of pressure off of my shoulders. Finally, it came. I had been granted the right to stay. I would be allowed to wait out the pandemic from the luxury of my 10 feet by 12 feet dorm room. 

With that anxiety relieved and the vast majority of the campus community gone, it really began to sink in that the world was falling apart and I was hundreds of miles away from my family. I began to grasp the depth of loneliness I would feel before this was over. 

I was so incredibly grateful to have a place to stay and grateful to Rider for being so accommodating. However, that did not change the fact that I was facing the next few months entirely on my own in a place I associated with being bustling with life, energy and joy, now at a complete standstill.

Then came the next startling reality: I would need to find a way to create structure and fill my days. 

For the first week or two, I slept constantly and would not see the sun for days. I was not going to pick up the meals the campus provided because I started to feel like I no longer knew how to interact with people. Being completely isolated for weeks does weird things to your psyche.  

Week three brought some much-needed clarity. I have since been making an effort to get up every morning, instead of sleeping the day away. I have also been trying to reach out to my friends more and spend at least an hour every day outside. 

I eventually made my first trek to Daly Dining Hall to get the meals Rider was providing to all students who remained on campus. When I got there it was much different than I expected. There were all these signs posted telling everyone to remain six feet apart from each other and the tables with food. 

I knew all these guidelines were necessary, but it still felt like an entirely different world than the one I had left three short weeks ago. Every single person was masked. Everyone was friendly, but distant, as we all had to be in this crisis. 

Online classes are odd. I am the only person still on campus in all my classes, and when my camera is on, someone —usually the professor — inevitably asks if I am still on campus. I then have to awkwardly explain that, yes, I am still here. Getting home would have been too difficult, I do not really have a room at home, etc. It always feels strange explaining to my class that I have nowhere else to go.

A few days ago, the weather was incredible and I was sitting outside on a bench right behind the Moore Library, facing the gazebo by the lake. All the trees and flowers were in full bloom, as they are every spring on campus. It was breathtaking to look at, with the bright sun making the lake sparkle and the red and yellow flowers placed right in front of it. I was suddenly hit with an immense wave of melancholy overlooking it all because there was no one else there to see it.  

Springtime on campus usually has a buzz of life around it. Seniors are getting excited about commencement, everyone is looking forward to summer break, the weather is beautiful and classes are winding down for the year. It’s a special time and we were all missing it. Sure, I was still on campus, but nothing was the same. Nothing was as it should be. 

Springtime at Rider brings out a wide variety of flowering plants that make campus a truly remarkable sight in the warm weather.

The whole world is grieving right now, and I’ve spent a lot of time in this era of social distancing sorely wishing for all things I used to have. I miss watching bad reality TV with my roommate, I miss the ramen from Cranberry’s Cafe and I miss seeing my Rider News family in person. There are so many things to grieve for. 

I am aware these things may seem small and insignificant, but that is OK. I have come to accept that it is OK to be sad about the small things too. For now, I’m just doing my part and social distancing, waiting for the day where we can all get back at least some of the things we are missing.

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