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On-campus students share hopes, fears for the semester

September 4, 2020

Caleb Adams-Hull
WELCOME BACK: Students return to campus, but remain six-feet apart while socializing.

As first years, student staff at the Office of Residential Life and approved upperclassmen moved onto campus in late August, they said goodbye to a number of things. Some of the 653 students residing on campus said goodbye to their hometowns, while some said goodbye to their home states or home countries. For all students moving into Bowdoin’s dorms, however, one farewell was consistent across the board: a goodbye to personal agency.

With the Residential Community Agreement in place, students on Bowdoin’s campus must forgo much of the opportunity to explore Maine, Brunswick and even parts of campus. The agreement also included strict guidelines for student gatherings and social interactions, which has proven challenging for first years as they look to form bonds with their new classmates.

“It’s hard only being able to interact with a certain number of people and only having one in-person class. Everyone wants to get to know each other,” said Libby Boutin ’24 in a phone interview with the Orient. “I’d love to go see other people. I really only feel like I’ve met 15 people.”

For some upperclassmen who already have social circles in place, Bowdoin’s strict on-campus policies are less of a concern.

“This semester I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to know people who aren’t usually in my social circle,” said Elise Hocking ’22 in a phone interview with the Orient. “Even though the restrictions have been exhausting to follow in some ways, I try to think about the things that might be good and different about this semester.”

One of the biggest concerns among students in-residence is the strict limitation of off-campus travel. The majority of students are asked to remain on campus nearly at all times and are only permitted to leave for essential business when the Campus Status Level (displayed on the College’s COVID-19 dashboard) is yellow. For some students, this means giving up employment opportunities.

“I definitely thought I would’ve been able to have a job … I was hoping that when we got to a more comfortable level I’d be able to venture off campus, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, so that’s definitely not good,” said Boutin, who was employed at Fat Boy Drive-In, located five minutes from campus. “I contacted a bunch of deans, and they all gave me the same message: that it’s just not a good idea to be leaving campus and this bubble.”

Sophie Walton ’21, who is completing her honors project on the interaction between blue crabs and green mussels, is one of the few students who was approved to consistently go off campus to complete research for her project.

“I know a small chunk of people are in my boat, so I know most people will be in their rooms, and I’ll be one of the few people going around doing stuff … I’m grateful to have somewhere to go and something to do,” Walton said in a phone interview with the Orient.

Though at least one major transgression of Bowdoin’s residential community agreement has already occurred, the vast majority of students have complied with the social contract. However, some student pushback has come in the form of small infractions, like refusing to wear masks in private residences.

“I’m in Park Row [Apartments] with four other people, and we’re supposed to be wearing masks even in the living room, and I don’t think most people are doing that,” Walton said. “So stuff like that I think people are pushing back on in a way, [because] they see [it] as a little unrealistic [considering] we’re sharing a kitchen, sharing a bathroom [and] sharing a lot of germs anyways.”

Esther Park ’23 echoed Walton’s sentiment, believing that the rules are sometimes not realistic.

“Out of this bedroom, I’m supposed to be wearing a mask all the time, and that seems kind of unrealistic. At the same time, … if [the College] said what they expect people to do, I feel like people would do a little less than that, so I think there’s nothing wrong with being extra careful from the position of the College,” Park said in a phone interview with the Orient.

Despite frustrations with the College’s strict policies, the threat of the College going fully remote remains a real fear for on-campus students.

Park, an international student from Dubai, faces the possibility of being stuck in the United States if the College goes fully remote. The College stated that students will have at least a 72-hour notice if this happens.

“One of my friends lives in Freeport … so I would probably go stay with her or find some other plan. I’m very fortunate in my first year to have met people that live in the area or have connections … but, you know, I’m hoping for the best,” Park said.

Walton, whose honors project depends on research based at the Schiller Coastal Studies Center, is also worried about the possibility of Bowdoin terminating on-campus residence.

“[If Bowdoin goes fully remote] I’ll probably have to put my project on hold for the time being and have the people that work at the Coastal Studies Center care for the creatures I use and hope they make it until next semester,” Walton said. “It was something I talked about with my advisor when we were doing the petition application to be on campus, but I decided that even if I’m only here for a month, I could probably still get enough done to make it worth it.”

However, even with the numerous restrictions set in place and the threat of a fully remote semester, joy has still found its way to campus.

“I just had my first meal with a friend … on the quad on two little tapestries [while sitting] apart,” Park said. “We just ate, and we were catching up, and I was like ‘you know, this is gonna be good. We’re going to make the best of it.’”

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