Despite most first-year Drexel students not living on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, around 50 first-year and upper-level students appealed to housing and are now living in on-campus dorms due to special circumstances.
This term has been irregular for everyone, but it is especially noticeable to first-years, who had to skip the right of passage of moving into a college dorm and sharing dining halls.
However, Drexel has already announced that they will be welcoming first-year students into the dorms for the upcoming winter term in an email sent on Oct. 29, 2020. However, COVID-prevention measures are not clear, besides the fact that all housing will be single occupancy rooms.
Students currently living on campus are staying in Race Hall with a limit of one person per suite, according to Meriam Meraay. Meraay is a senior student who has been a Resident Assistant at Drexel for three years and is currently the RA of a floor in Race. The only other open Drexel housing option is Stiles Hall, located on the Center City campus.
Among these students are US Citizens and internationals alike, and all had the opportunity to appeal for housing. Their special circumstances include student visa issues, potentially unstable home environments, and not having an established place of residency, among others.
Meraay explained that there are other safety measures implemented in the active dorm areas: a no-guests policy, a rule allowing only one person to be in common areas (like the kitcken or laundry rooms) at a time and a maximum capacity of two people per elevator. Additionally, masks have to be worn everywhere inside the building, except for inside each student’s suite.
Meraay mentioned that being an RA this term through the pandemic is very different than the usual experience.
“It’s not as busy, it’s not as exciting. It’s more just kind of like trying to be there to support my residents,” Meraay said. “There are definitely more questions, I think. Just with the uncertainty of everything and the uncertainty of decisions coming from leadership about next term and housing in general. I don’t really have all the answers, so I’m constantly talking to my RD and meeting with my staff to try and like get those answers.”
Additionally, the only floor activities allowed to be organized by RAs this term have been online activities through Zoom or dropping off sealed snacks and other materials to residents’ doors. Meraay also mentioned that the experience has been different because she also has upper-level residents in her floor, not only first-years.
“It is challenging to talk to everyone with one voice, but it’s also nice because then I know there’s a senior on my floor, and that resident could maybe help my other residents,” Meraay said.
Also, there has been a smaller turnout in activities because of the lesser number of residents. So, instead of doing floor activities, RAs coordinate activities for the whole building, like Presidential Debate watch parties or Among Us game nights.
“I think it’s nice because you can also just kind of get closer with the residents when we do an event and only few of them show up and you get to know them a lot better,” Meraay said.
Food-wise, students can use the communal kitchen in their floors at Race and store food inside their suites, but they also count on Northside Dining Terrace, the only dining hall currently open on campus. Students currently count with a plan of 1,100 dining dollars that they can use at Northside’s mini-market and its new Hot Bar — a new dining addition for COVID times.
“[Northside Dining] doesn’t really seem to get crowded. The only time they seem to get a little bit overwhelmed is when the varsity athletes finish practice and they go to clear out the dining hall,” Lucas Dimayuga said, a first-year student who lives in Race.
Dimayuga had just arrived in the United States from Cambodia when Drexel announced that the fall term would be remote. He had to move there for his parents’ job and lived there for his last high school years. Since Dimayuga had already moved all his things to the U.S. and did not have another place to live here, he appealed for housing.
“[The floor’s kitchen] it’s really not that congested, but I feel like it will become a bit more congested once they start filling up like residence halls next term,” Dimayuga said.
Many other students currently living in Race Hall share the concern: How will social distancing and safety measures function in common areas once more people move into the dorms?
“I definitely am not optimistic about that because, as much as you can follow social distancing and stay in your own room, it will be difficult when you have to use a bathroom or kitchen if you don’t have it in your room. There’s bound to be a lot of people using it at once, and then it’s like, how do you wear a mask when you’re brushing your teeth next to somebody in the communal bathroom? I feel like they really need to think through that part before they just kind of bring everyone back,” said Meraay.
Meraay also mentioned RAs still haven’t received training on how to manage social distancing in communal bathrooms and kitchens, but all RAs will receive online training through Zoom on Jan. 2.
“I personally don’t think that it’s going to stick because right now cases are increasing massively, unless there’s a huge improvement. There are like alerts from Philadelphia almost every day and I personally don’t think it’ll be a good idea because COVID cases [could] definitely spike with the Holiday season,” said Alyraj Dhanani, another first-year student living in Race.
Dhanani appealed to housing because he had no other place to live after he left Malaysia, where he was living with a student visa and could not stay any longer.
“I worried there might be a peak in cases and students would have to move out of campus. I’m just hoping that if they do decide to proceed with [moving out], we don’t have to move during the term itself. Because that would be like extremely inconvenient for us, but I’m just hoping for the best.,” Dhanani said.
Hannah Wang, an international student from Taiwan who appealed for housing, said there is also a petition going around made by an RA for Drexel to keep dorms closed for the upcoming term.
“Some of the issues they stated include are people not wearing masks and services on campus not being able to follow all the COVID guidelines and everything. But as for us, people who are living on campus because they have nowhere else to go if there is an outbreak on campus,” Wang said.
Wang also appealed for on-campus housing after finding out that Drexel would be remote for the fall and this was the only way to maintain her student visa.
Dhanani said that he thinks Drexel needs to implement an effective testing system to reduce the potential outbreak of COVID within dorms.
“I think that the pace that they’re doing testing on is really good, but if there are more students coming in and not only to race and other dorms, they just have to increase the amount of locations, they have for like physical space and they’ll have to obviously get in more staff. They have to use a larger communal space where people can access because, obviously, if there’s only one building lines are going to be huge,” Dhanani said.
Currently, free COVID testing for asymptomatic students is only being done in the Library Learning Terrace located in Race Hall, although it was previously conducted in Myers Hall. Dimayuga, Dhanani and Wang all agree that the current process is efficient, but better measures will be needed if more students move to campus.
Another service that any students who lives in Philadelphia has had access to, has been the gym. For a short period of time, the Recreation Center was open, until the new COVID restrictions were applied in the city and it closed again.
“While [the gym] was open, I think they did a really good job,” Dimayuga said. “They made you a screening first and they asked for your health tracker status to determine if you had any symptoms or not. You had to keep your mask on in the gym at all times, they would sanitize every machine you would use and they would limit the amount of people in the gym at one time.”
Wang also mentioned the Korman Center was open to study if you made an appointment, as well as the library. However, you could only use the library’s study rooms and not other service, like printing — which caused students to pay for printing at off-campus stores at a higher price.
Despite all of these circumstances, the students have adapted well to Philadelphia in their first term in the city. They have formed a community with students living in Race Hall and other Drexel students outside campus, as well as joining clubs virtually.