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Residence halls face challenges engaging students while social distancing

With capacity to house 378 students, Vista La Verne, the only dorm open on campus this semester, is housing just 150 students, all in single rooms, with all common spaces inside the building closed. Besides these residents and a few select staff, no one is allowed inside University buildings. Per University and Los Angeles County Health Department mandates, nearly all classes are online, where they will remain at least through January 2021. / photo by Marwan Hassan

Alondra Campos
News Editor

The University’s housing and residential life team is taking necessary precautions to keep those students living on campus healthy and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while still trying to provide some sense of normalcy so residents feel at home.

Of the usual 1,000 students living on campus, only 150 students currently reside in the Vista La Verne residence hall, with four of them being resident assistants. International students or students with housing needs were eligible for campus housing this fall semester. Those who had viable alternatives to living in the dorm, were encouraged not to return, so those in the dorms could keep socially distanced. 

The suite style of the rooms, with one bathroom per person, allow residents to practice social distancing among their peers while also placing their safety and health first.

Carina Baca, junior psychology and political science major, is a resident assistant in Vista La Verne.

She said she strictly follows the residence hall protocols in order to ensure her safety and the well-being of students.

“We have areas, like the lounges or the kitchen, where students are no longer allowed to gather,” Baca said. “Weekly COVID tests are also done every Friday, which comes out to residents being tested once a month.”

Of the total resident population, 15% of randomly selected students are tested every Friday.

Lauren Miranda, junior international studies major, currently lives on campus and said the lack of social interaction with others has brought her a great sense of appreciation of what living on campus looked like before the pandemic.

“It’s really eerie seeing how empty the campus is,” Miranda said. “The dining hall is only open for a limited time and never on the weekends, so that has been a bit challenging. But the residence staff has been helpful in trying to stay engaged with us.”

At the beginning of the semester, Zoom groups were organized to allow students to get to know each other and their resident assistants without having to leave their rooms.

Although the health of residents is their biggest priority, Baca admitted that it has become challenging to engage students in events or programs virtually and build a sense of community during the pandemic.

“All our events have to be done online through Zoom or consist of individual activities that avoid crowds from gathering,” Baca said. “This is new to all of us and we’re learning as we go.”

In addition to providing masks for students, all essential staff on campus was tested for COVID-19 and several sanitizing stations are set up around campus for the convenience of students. All residents were also provided with a no-contact device that allows them to press elevator buttons or open doors without touching the surfaces.

“We are following the state’s and Los Angeles county’s COVID-19 guidelines to provide our students with a safe yet engaging living environment in the best way possible,” Director of Residence Life Eugene Shang said. “We’re trying to figure out how to do things while remaining virtual.

Students had to sign a contract prior to moving in and are required to wear face masks and practice social distancing whenever they leave their rooms. At most, there are four people in a six-person or eight-person suite, with no roommates. 

“A maximum of two people can be inside a room at a time and we are not allowing visitors unless they are special caretakers,” Shang said.

From Monday to Friday, the Spot dining hall offers pre-packaged breakfasts, lunches and dinners for students to grab and go.

Benjamin Sussman, sophomore criminology major, is also a resident assistant and said that despite the challenges, the residential life team will continue to persevere.

“As an RA, it’s been tough here and there, but nothing that cannot be managed,” Sussman said.

The Vista La Verne housing office can be reached at 909-448-4052 and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Alondra Campos can be reached at alondra.campos@laverne.edu.

Marwan Hassan

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