Living on a campus under quarantine

Courtesy of Michael Polito.

My windows are directly over the front door of Lathrop, so when Spring Break began I watched and heard students leave, whether it be for lavish vacations I cannot fiscally afford, or to go home, which I cannot emotionally afford. Those of us with compelling reasons to stay—select winter and spring sports respectively hoping to make a deep postseason run or begin a successful campaign; spring break workers, those with outstanding circumstances or those with no reason to go anywhere else—stayed. 

Since then, more of the campus’ soul has leaked out day by day. When the remainder of varsity athletics’ spring season was cancelled, the athletes left. When the semester was temporarily suspended, more students departed; even more went once it became clear the rest of the semester was to be held online. With the closure of gyms and other non-essential buildings, the majority of spring workers went home, too. 

The problem for me is that Vassar is my home, and has been for all two and a half years. During semesters, breaks, and two summers I’ve worked at the Athletics and Fitness Center and have had no offseason—and I’d have it no other way. I was there the day Governor Cuomo ordered all New York gyms to be closed until further notice. I had also spent countless hours training at the Phoenix Center, a fencing club on Hooker Avenue, often training long past midnight. US Fencing effectively halted all in-person club activity, so now even fencing classes are taught via Zoom. I took my equipment back to my room and watched the lights of the fieldhouse, where I had just won a conference title for Vassar several weeks prior, eerily fade to black. 

As I write this on the night of March 21, I await the news whether or not I will be allowed to stay on campus despite having been assured by the Administration not a week earlier that I’d be allowed to stay. Whether or not Vassar is weighing removing me because I pose a threat to others potentially more susceptible to the coronavirus than me, or to better balance a checkbook and reduce Lathrop’s electric bill, I do not know. I’ll admit I suspect the latter because, rather than risk further disrupting my already-disrupted education by making me find an apartment in New York the day classes resume, they could have elected to kick me out during the first wave of applications to stay on campus. Moreover, the lack of any real attempt by the administration to prevent people returning to campus to get shitfaced with their friends one last time makes me suspicious that some corners of the administration don’t care about immunocompromised students’ safety any more than they legally need to.

At any rate, with this precariousness in mind, I’ve been taking in an emptiness that no Vassar students have perhaps ever felt on so wide a scale. During the day, campus is a beautiful place to go on runs—it actually resembles the liberal arts school located in Scenic Hudson Valley™ that was pedaled to each of us in our high school days. At night, however, it’s sad. As I write this on a Saturday evening, the sidewalks that would otherwise be carrying students of varying intoxications to Late Night lay bare; the night is still and the wind whistles through in our stead.

The Deece is open now, but it is as depressing as the times necessitate. The entry and middle third of the building is cordoned off, and dystopian signs remind us not to even think about being less than two yards apart, dammit. The Deece workers, all glove- and mask-clad, peer in at those of us still here as though we are spectacles for their gaze. Everything is saran-wrapped and physical distance is kept. However, the fact of the matter is those of us fortunate to still be on campus are on the inside looking out, not on the outside looking in. I admire the dining hall workers and thank them for their resilience. 

The productive state of the “outside,” if you will, varies depending on how widely your neighborhood can afford to quarantine itself. With the departure of Vassar students, much of Arlington is shut down. On St. Patrick’s Day I took a stroll down the Arlington Amble and felt like the king of the world, with not a single stranger in sight. As is the case with all of abandoned Vassar, the novelty wears off quickly, especially when one considers the livelihoods of employees of restaurants like Burger-Fi, Thai Spice and Chan’s Peking; not to mention that the panic of elderly shoppers at Stop & Shop is all too warranted as they hope not to contract the crippling virus causing all of this societal change. The shopping aisle is swelled and the storefront is bare.

I struggle to find meaning and motivation now, as I’m sure many of us do. In these morbid times, it has come up that Isaac Newton used his time in quarantine during an outbreak of the bubonic plague to develop calculus. That’s great, but whereas Isaac Newton was Isaac Newton, I’m a nimrod with a laptop. Nonetheless, I plan to give online learning all that I’ve got. My anxieties about the health of my parents, octogenarian grandmother with breathing problems, and M.D. sister knowingly exposed to COVID-19 grow, as does the gray cloud above my seasonally depressed head daily. But I reflect upon the spirit that once animated Vassar’s campus with nostalgia and hope, and will continue to carry the fire from my home above the front doors of Lathrop, even if only for a little while longer.

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