The restrictions caused by COVID-19 and Ontario’s stay-at-home order have drastically impacted the residence experience for post-secondary students across the province.
Many first-year students move into residence to participate in orientation activities, meet friends and attend parties. For many, this year that was not possible.
“It’s definitely hard not to wonder what a typical first-year residence experience would look like, and how it differs from what we have right now. I do feel like we’re missing out on a lot,” said 18-year-old Julia Bullard, a first-year food science student at Guelph University.
Most residences are operating at a limited capacity, and guests are prohibited during lockdown. Masks must be worn inside and dining halls are takeout only. Indoor gatherings are not allowed and students are not allowed in each other’s rooms, making the experience very different from previous years.
“Everything is harder,” said Trent University forensic science student Brooklyn Lefler, 18. “Online school and making friends are both a lot harder. I haven’t really become friends with anyone here because I want to be safe and stay away from big groups.”
Although many students took the opportunity to move into residence over the winter break, safety remained a big concern.
“My dad didn’t want me to go at all because he was so nervous about it and so was my sister, but my mom eventually talked them into it because she knew I was upset being at home,” said Hannah Faubert, 19, a Guelph University Family Studies and Human Development student.
Bullard said some students at Guelph’s residence have been breaking the lockdown rules and gathering, despite the university’s efforts to enforce them.
“We didn’t know what would happen if we broke the rules, but a few of my friends in another building unfortunately had to learn by experience,” she said. “If they broke protocol, they were given a $120 fine.
“Others were caught by the police and given a much larger fine and usually a write-up to go with it,” Bullard said.
Humber College’s residence is only open to those who need to be on campus for in-person learning, and very tight restrictions are in place.
Unlike other schools, all of the common areas at Humber’s residences are closed and students do not have suitemates. Residents and staff must wear masks and frequently complete self-assessments and no non-essential visitors are allowed inside.
The college also held a fully virtual orientation this year to further prevent gathering.
Humber residence life manager Phil Legate said the residence is running at about 20 per cent capacity this year, with only 300 students occupying more than 1,400 beds between the North and Lakeshore campuses. Staff numbers have also dropped.
“We made a decision back in the summer that because of the way the year was unfolding we only wanted returning staff to work with us,” Legate said. “By the time April rolled around, we had about 20 or so with offers to come work for us, and of that 20, we essentially got five that decided that they wanted to work here, just given what the year looks like.”
Eighteen-year-old Josea Fowler, a Child Studies student at Guelph University, said she feels grateful she’s able to live in residence at all, but she still wishes she could have a “normal university experience.”