Living on a closed campus: student housing during COVID-19


Courtesy/ Alexander Calder Art Center

Ysabela Golden, Laker Life Editor

Last March, Grand Valley State University’s winter 2020 semester was interrupted abruptly by the spike of Michigan COVID-19 cases. Alongside the official suspension of in-person classes and transition to remote learning on March 12, students living in campus housing were asked to depart from their residences no later than March 15.

Student key card access to residence halls was shut off two days later, and stayed that way until scheduled move-outs began May 1 — delayed after several executive orders restricting travel from Michigan Governor Whitmer — allowing students to finally return for the belongings they’d left behind in the rush to get off campus.

But while the majority of residents returned to campus to move out fully in May, other students were leaving for the first time. Back in March, Housing and Residence Life created a Departure Exception Request Form for students who were unable to depart campus due to extenuating circumstances. Cautious of too many students remaining on campus and spreading the virus, approvals for exemption were limited to specific circumstances and made on a case-by-case basis.

One such approved case was that of Breann Barge, a writing major who lived in Calder Residence on the Allendale campus when classes were cancelled last March. Barge’s asthma makes her particularly at risk from COVID-19, and in addition to the practical difficulties of moving into new housing with such little notice, she needed to stay in her one-bedroom apartment in order to remain quarantined.

“During the initial shut down, there was definitely a sobering feeling that was heavy in the atmosphere,” Barge said. “There was a bittersweet feeling seeing adult Allendale residents take advantage of the emptying campus as students were going home for quarantine. Using the parking lots, walking around with dogs and babies.”

Fortunately for Barge, her job as a student employee at the writing center transitioned online with her classes. As an Allendale resident without a car, however, the closing of campus dining and convenience stores meant that she could have a serious problem if the virus affected the availability of the buses she relied on to get groceries from the Standale Meijer. Thankfully, Grand Rapids’ Interurban Transit Partnership had an effective COVID-19 plan for The Rapid bus services.

“Only fifteen people are allowed at a time,” Barge explained. “Over the summer, the 50 took over some of the route for what’s normally bus number 12. Even being open to the public, it’s rarely been filled to capacity, and it still ran at its normal weekend time of once an hour — so thankfully, it was no different getting around for me.”

Barge moved out of Calder in April, but remained in Allendale, subleasing an apartment near campus. Now that the fall semester is starting, Barge is back in Calder.

“Housing’s usual effectiveness is still holding up, but it feels a little slower for the welcoming of students back to campus this fall,” Barge said. “But I think they could just be figuring everything out.”

When asked if she had any advice for the many Grand Valley students returning to Allendale after a spring and summer spent away, Barge had only one thing to say:

“Wear your mask, wash your hands and good luck.”