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Letter from Haverquaratined

Editor’s note: All opinions pieces published in the Clerk represent only the views and ideas of the author. 

To everyone who is away,

March 18, 2020

Today has been pretty monotonous and my eyes are tired from all the laptop use and reading. All day, I’ve been switching between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Populism and World Politics: Exploring Inter- and Transnational Dimensions edited by Stengel et. al. The latter is for a humongous research paper that is due this coming Tuesday, and the former for keeping sane.

I’ve read Americanah approximately five times before. I think the most recent one was when I made the decision to stay on campus for spring break in my first year at Haverford. Rolling around on my bunk in my Barclay forced double, sometimes on my roommate’s comfy armchair, and sometimes on the floor, Americanah and I spent our sunny yet lonely days together. I think I have always sought solace in this text, which is why as I started to move over my hump of denial and into acceptance of the COVID-19-impacted lifestyle, I picked this book to pass the time.

As I was reading on my bed, finishing the first chapter, the Founders’ clock struck seven P.M. Just like this reading experience grounds me by reminding me of my loved ones and loved places, the strike of the clock reminds me I am here, at Haverford, where I’ve created a life and chosen family for myself in the past three years. 

It was understandably a shock, then, when like a Domino effect universities and colleges across the country started shutting down. For me and several others, it meant our home, our permanent residence, our only source of income, was shutting down. Coming back and seeing our residence halls empty felt like a punch in the gut. I stepped out of Leeds last night to catch a breath and smell the fresh flowers showing up everywhere. What was supposed to be a happy minute turned to dismay as I turned left and saw that the lights were out in almost every room. Gummere and Drinker both seemed uninhabited, and so I turned around, despite knowing that Leeds was mostly empty, and started looking at each window, secretly hoping that some light would turn on. My hope was unrealistic, of course, and after a couple of minutes, I reminded myself that everyone had gone home.

The hush that surrounds campus is uncanny. I’ve been on campus for breaks before, but it has never felt so hurtfully quiet and screamed abandonment with such force as it does now. On each walk to the DC, I can hear my footsteps, the rustle of the leaves, the car driving on College Lane. It’s so empty that I can hear myself breathe and hum. Inside the DC, both the left and right sections are closed. The sunken lounge is empty—all the tables are gone, and at the entrance (only the right entrance is open), the hand sanitizing machine has taken the spotlight. It stands square and tall, with a massive sign that reads “Sanitize hands before entering.” Rashoun and Stacy are usually by the card reader, trying to make happy conversation as they see all of us enter and leave with sulky expressions. Near the food bars, everything is covered in plastic, students are not allowed to touch anything, and the DC staff braves this pandemic to be here and feed the students remaining on campus. This act of benevolence gives me joy and faith every time I walk in and out, despite the fact that the cardboard takeout box I carry serves as a bittersweet reminder of every single happy and chatty meal that I have shared with my friends in this space, and also of all the meals that I flaked on. As for the ones I flaked on, I have no idea when I will be able to reschedule them.

On the walk back and throughout the day, I can’t help but notice that all the academic buildings are on lockdown, too. The lights on the top floors of the KINSC are on—they’ve been consistently on for the past few days. I look at them through my window to ground myself and remember that this will all be back in some time. The Founders’ porch lights are hopeful, too, and on like always. If it were just for these, I would walk around and believe everything was fine. But then the hush surrounding Lutnick presents a stark contrast. The lights are still on, and a couple of times I’ve wanted to go in and see my friends in their usual nooks and crannies. It is so quiet, though, in the Phillips Wing, the main hall, and the noisy café which I love referring to as Loop. Every time I look into the café, I am reminded of all the coffee that I won’t drink this coming quarter, all the muffins that I won’t be able to split with my friends, all the sneaky cigarette breaks that I won’t be able to take right outside or under the Lutnick entrance ramp.

I’ve been suppressing the urge to wander toward the apartments or on the nature trail because I want to keep those around me safe. Extensive travel in the past two weeks means that I may be carrying a bug, or more generally, several of us may be carrying something—both on and off-campus—because of all the spring break flying we did. The trails are unusually crowded with  old folks and children from the neighbourhood, because people need outlets and the blooming trees and flowers are inviting, so going out seems too risky in case I act as a vector for transmission. (Some of these children are even chasing students, so it’s a little hard to keep six feet away…)

It is an extremely hard and heart-wrenching time. I started out writing this piece to update everyone on how things are looking around here without getting emotional, but I guess the mild salty humor and sadness are inevitable at this time. Administrative emails are also interesting, and provide the opportunity to feel some new emotions like boundless confusion and sometimes even anger. The email that came out as of now, at 7:55 P.M. on 03/18, seems like a text from an indecisive love interest, who just takes too long to make up their mind about anything.

To be fair, though, I am thankful for the way our tiny college with its tiny resource pool has responded. When several other colleges with much larger pools of resources kicked their students out and asked them to leave within the next 5 days, I felt like there was no hope for us. “Internationals and FGLI [first-generation/low-income students] will get hit the hardest,” I thought to myself. However, between booking people flights home, allowing those of us in need to stay on campus, and providing meals to everyone staying regardless of elected plans, Haverford’s response has felt like positive reinforcement of the choice I made three years ago—the decision to come here. We all have a lot of qualms, of course, and there is no denying that, but I guess you (hopefully) only see a global pandemic once in a lifetime. There is (thankfully) a lack of precedence for procedures that must be followed when students turn into liabilities and some of them lack the structural resources or agency to go home, and so every decision will take long to make.

Speaking of home, though, I hope people can come back soon. Realistically speaking, I don’t think we’ll be able to return anytime soon but until then, I will try and keep you all (and myself) entertained with updates and scenes from campus. Once my quarantine is over, pictures may also accompany the updates, and maybe an Instagram account to record campus bloom? We’ll all wait and watch as this unfolds, but until then, wash your hands, stay inside, and be responsible millennials, my friends and fellow Fords. Holding everyone in light and my prayers till I see you all in full health and with big smiles.

Love from campus,

One of the many Haverquarantined

Update from 03/20: As we were still working on the piece, the school sent out an email regarding going online for the rest of the semester and adding an update here seemed helpful. While most of us expected this, it is still a sad reality, especially for the senior class. Wishing you all health and patience in this crazy time!

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