Nine months, two stinky freshmen and one 12-by-14 foot cement room: dorms. In any normal year, the college dorm is just four cement walls that give freshmen a place to sleep and keep their belongings while they go to class, study at Torgerson Bridge, hang out downtown and live life in public. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we live our daily lives, and Virginia Tech’s on-campus residents have been experiencing this shift more than most. Now more than ever, on-campus residents are calling their dorm rooms home rather than just a cement square they sleep in at the end of each day.
The nature of abiding by health and safety regulations means that students have been spending more time than originally expected in their dorms; naturally, they have been doing different things to make the most of their situation. The easiest and most obvious choice in making the dorm rooms feel cozy is installing the right lighting. Some residents have opted for fairy lights, lamp fixtures or LED light strips along the perimeter of the room. Others have even gone with quirkier and unique options like lava lamps, neon signs or rock salt lamps. Whether students go with simple or quirky options, having the right lighting is a much preferred choice to the abrasive, pre-installed white LED fixture.
In addition to lighting, residents are bringing knick knacks to make their rooms feel homier while they spend more time there: record players, coffee machines, succulents and mini projectors, to name a few. One of the most interesting ways students have been personalizing their dorms has been by creating study nooks — spatially mindful study corners complete with rugs, fairy lights and speakers, all centered around the desk and bookshelf that come with the room. This is just another way students are getting creative to make staying indoors more comfortable.
In addition to all of the in-room adjustments residents have been making, resident assistants have had the unique job of creating activities for their residents to prevent cabin fever. It is nearly impossible to walk down any hallway in any dorm without seeing at least three fliers advertising COVID-19-safe activities that residents can participate in. A very popular activity has been a virtual Bob Ross paint party. Held over Zoom, RAs host a virtual party in which residents can watch an episode of “Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting” together and follow along with their own canvases and supplies provided by the RA. It is a deceivingly difficult activity since Ross, when not taking breaks to show off his pet squirrels to the audience or giving inspirational quotes on happy little trees, paints at a rapid pace that contrasts his calm demeanor. Regardless of the outcome, residents have had a blast in the process of creating their masterpieces.
For the less artistically inclined, there are also activities like hall video game nights. Hosted over Zoom or on the gaming platform Discord, hallmates and their RAs can log onto games like Among Us or Just Dance to play together from their own rooms. And, of course, what would hall bonding be without movie nights? The emergence of Netflix Party and other screen sharing methods have made weekly movie nights a regular occurrence, especially since RAs have been so generous as to provide popcorn to participating individuals. RAs have stepped up to the plate to make the dorms a place where residents enjoy spending time.
However, it is not all fun and games (no pun intended) in the dorms in COVID-19 times. Due to the increased amount of time spent inside and public gatherings being limited to 10 people, underground-style gatherings are being held inside the dorms. One cannot help but draw similarities to the speakeasies of the 1920s when thinking about the groups of friends who monitor their volume and keep hushed when hanging out together inside the dorm rooms today in the 2020’s. The official Virginia Tech guideline that the administration expects students to follow is to limit gatherings to only three people per dorm room. Students can also register to be in a pod of up to six people, and up to 10 if you live in a suite-style dorm. However, as expected, young and sociable students who have been cooped up in their houses for months may ignore these strict regulations, so monitoring has been upped on campus this semester. This means more periodic RA checks, more conduct referrals and more monitoring of the halls.
As long as residents cooperate and adhere to the rules, they can have a pretty great year in the dorms. Freshman Carter Alexander, a resident of Harper Hall, says that his freshman experience has been pretty great in the dorms, despite the increased regulations.
“Being in a suite has given me the opportunity to meet a lot more people than I would have had in a traditional dorm,” Alexander said. “I had a higher chance of connecting with and being closer with more people.”
Suite-style living definitely has its advantages during COVID-19 due to the nature of its layout, with one of the biggest being how spacious and private they are. The rooms typically come with their own walk-in closets, a furnished living room space and perhaps the biggest pro to have in the midst of a pandemic: a private bathroom. Although the responsibility of cleaning and upkeep falls on the residents, having an apartment-like space that is not shared with 20 other people is ideal for those who want to be extra cautious. Moreover, suite-style living has the potential to offer a built-in group of friends.
“(My) suitemates are (my) family,” Alexander said. The six of them and his neighbors across the hall spend almost all of their time together.
Whether or not residents live in a suite, a Jack-and-Jill or a traditional-style dorm, there is no denying that the increased time spent inside these humble abodes lends itself to neighborly bonding and, if residents are lucky, the discovery of some of their best friends. While the dramatic limitations of what residents can do this year are a bummer, residents and RAs have adapted and found ways to make on-campus living feel less cramped and more cozy.