The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered the lives of Whitman students. The majority of buildings on campus have shut down and Washington state residents have been ordered to stay home. As a result, students have been grappling with the physical and mental effects of the coronavirus in everyday life.
Senior Jonathan Falk decided to stay in Walla Walla for the rest of the semester. He is living in the house that he rents with his two housemates. Falk stayed because he does not want to travel across the country during the pandemic.
Falk says that his biggest concern right now is paying rent. He lost his job working in the gym and his two housemates lost theirs as well.
To combat the anxiety of everyday life, Falk has set a daily routine for himself.
“Personally, I’m trying to make sure I get up early in the morning and I go outside and I read on the porch,” Falk said, “because it gets easy to get into a habit of just sleeping all the time and then feeling awful and not doing anything.”
With the art building shut down, Falk and his housemates have converted their shed into an art studio for their neighbor who is an art major.
As a senior, Falk is dealing with the cancellation of Whitman’s in-person graduation ceremony, as well as a difficult job market.
“It sucks, but you know, [it’s] probably a good idea that they’re making that decision,” Falk said. “I’m not that big into rituals or traditions, but it is going to be really weird graduating from college with no closure at all.”
Falk applied to the Teaching Assistant Program in France, but is preparing for it to be canceled.
“It’s kind of hard to know what to do,” Falk said.
Sophomore Karsten Beling, a Resident Assistant (RA) in Jewett, decided to drive home to Park City, Utah, at the very beginning of spring break. He originally planned on coming back to Whitman, until his Resident Director (RD) told him that he should pack up his belongings and check out for the rest of the semester.
“I wanted to come [home] because I was concerned, in case there were travel restrictions. Not seeing my family would be hard,” Beling said.
Beling has developed a routine for his time spent at home to help him keep everything on track.
“I always put on pants in the morning so I feel productive,” Beling said. “[I] shower, take care of myself and do yoga, go on runs and do my schoolwork.”
As with many other students who have traveled back home, Beling is coping with the change in lifestyle.
“There’s change, too, with the loss of a sense of autonomy. I’m not on my own, really, anymore,” Beling said. “It’s kind of weird that I’m at college and at home, because those worlds have always been so separate to me.”
Utah’s governor issued a stay-at-home order on March 27, and Beling’s county has restrictions on going to restaurants and other stores in large gatherings. In addition, as a ski resort town, Park City has shut down all of its resorts.
In Walla Walla, an anonymous student living in a house off-campus shared with The Wire that when spring break started, their landlord required them to leave the house. The renters were told to leave for an undetermined amount of time out of concern that the landlord would catch COVID-19 from the students.
“[I] never expected to be waking up and being told to leave; and then the whole stress of packing; and then having to find some place to go,” the student said, “and then the whole stress with trying to resolve and trying to seek help or advice on what to do. It has confused my whole spring break.”
Junior Emily Chargin decided to stay on-campus for the rest of the semester. Chargin’s home is in the Bay Area, and she decided it would be more dangerous to go back than to stay in Walla Walla. The rest of her family is also at their home, so she realized that home would not be a quiet place to work, either.
She emphasized the importance of having a house to stay in when making the decision to leave or to stay in Walla Walla.
“If I did not have a house, if I were in a dorm, I think I would have left,” Chargin said.
Currently, she is living with two out of her four housemates, and is dealing with changes stemming from the stay-at-home order and the shift to online courses.
“It’s still going to be an interesting experience to not have this [in-person] interaction, because that’s such a large part of what Whitman is,” Chargin said.
Chargin summed up her situation, saying, “I am surprisingly not panicked.”
Junior Nidhi Jaltare decided to stay at Whitman for the rest of the semester as well. As an RA and international student, it would have been difficult for her to return home to Amravati, India. Two days after international students were informed that it was fine for them to leave, India closed down all international travel.
As an RA in the Interest House Community, Jaltare has been on duty for all of spring break.
“It was rough to see all the frustration that the students who live on campus were facing,” Jaltare said.
However, she thinks the college made the right call to ask students to return home if possible.
“Whitman students are not being the best right now in terms of social distancing or actually following policies. So, I feel that the college made the right call [to ask students to leave],” Jaltare said. “At this point, we should all know what we’re doing and that we’re going to get someone infected.”
As for returning home, she doesn’t know when it will be possible to go back to her hometown.
“I definitely miss home more, now,” Jaltare said. “Because now I don’t really know how long this is going to go on. I am kind of anxious about when I will be able to go home, but I’m sure it will work out.”