Living in the dorms during a pandemic


Photos by Annie Means

Rosa Woolsey, News Reporter

When the Memorial Building clock tower strikes noon, the once bustling flow of students to Cleveland Commons for the lunchtime rush has now subsided to just a handful. While the days grow warmer and longer as Walla Walla progresses into springtime, only a few individuals can be seen relaxing on Ankeny Field. Although many students returned home after the rest of the spring semester was moved to an online distance-learning system, 145 students still remain on campus.

Sophomore Alejandra Wait was a resident assistant (RA) in the Writing House before being relocated to the French House during spring break after most of her residents had left.

“I’m living with my one remaining resident from the Writing House and the two remaining residents in the French House,” Wait said. “It has been really fun to get to know these people so well in a short period of time. We cook and bake for each other, and we have board game night every Friday. Everyone has such different personalities which makes for really interesting conversations.”

Sophomore Christian Wallace-Bailey is an RA in Stanton Hall, where residents from Jewett Hall were relocated.

“Most of the RAs in Jewett went home so there was no one to watch over [the residents] other than the RD,” Wallace-Bailey said. “There were minimal people in Jewett and we had a lot of space in Stanton because we had a lot of our residents move out too, so it just made sense to not spend all of the money to have hot water in the building and upkeep and we could just move people over here.”

Wait spoke on how the duties have shifted for many RAs still on campus as their residents go home and they gain new ones.

“I am still going through the motions of being an RA: staff meetings, one-on-ones, weekly logs, chore charts, etc. But the whole experience of being an RA feels a lot more relaxed because I think in times like this it’s most important to be a friend and support system for people,” Wait said. 

Wallace-Bailey described a similar focus in his position as an RA. There is more of an emphasis on supporting residents emotionally than usual.

“I don’t do most of the stuff that I used to do because there’s no need for it … We still have staff meetings, but because there’s really nothing to do it’s hard to feel like I’m doing anything,” Wallace said. “We still try and do programs and there is still stuff happening, at least for people in my building. It’s just the nature of the job is so different.”

First-years Connor Walker and Caspian Pimpan are the two remaining residents in their section in Anderson Hall. They expressed the highs and lows of their experiences of living on-campus.

“You have to learn to like being alone with yourself, which is something that I’m working with,” Pimpan said. “It’s kind of helped me evaluate what I need out of interpersonal relationships: being forced to be alone and how I feel about that and how I interact with other people now as a result.”

Walker reflected the same bittersweet sentiment about living on-campus without familiar faces.

“I think the worst thing is just that no one else is here so you feel like you’re living in a desolate husk of what used to be … and I think the best part is probably at the same time the solace you feel,” Walker said. “Sometimes you’ll go out on Ankeny and it’s 10 a.m. — this is time the people would be crossing Ankeny, but you’re just the only one … and you just are at peace by yourself.”

Wallace-Bailey emphasized his gratitude for being able to remain on campus, and for the individuals who are working to keep students remaining on-campus safe, not wanting their efforts to go unrecognized. He noted that this was not an option for many other institutions and expressed the pros and cons of his experience. 

“The best part is that the whole building is like my house right now so, I have my own bathroom, I get to put stuff in the fridge and not worry about it getting eaten, I get to walk around without my shoes on because I’m not worried about the carpet being dirty because it’s just me, I can leave my door open. So it feels like I can live a lot more authentically in the space but on the flip side that’s because there’s no one here, so it is quite lonely,” Wallace-Bailey said. “I like to have my own space but I also like to feel like there are other people around me.”

The Cleveland Commons is open every day and although much of the dining hall is closed, the Bon Appetit staff has worked hard to continue to provide for the students remaining on campus. Walker and Pimpan were particularly excited about the now weekly servings of the famed Bang Bang Chicken and Tofu.

“I miss Captain Ron and all the other staff, but the Bon App staff that’s here now, [I’m] definitely bonding with them and I know that’s going to be the case when we’re back and that’s going to be fun,” Pimpan said. “Everything’s weird for everyone and it’s nice to affirm that sometimes because it’s so easy to actually feel super isolated here within isolation. For me, just remembering that everyone’s going through the same thing … and that we are actually all in this together in one respect.” 

In addition to getting acquainted with the Bon App staff, Pimpan also discussed getting more familiarized with the Walla Walla community as the springtime weather invites spending time outside. 

“I think I’ve been seeing a lot more of Walla Walla than I would have… I’ve been acquainting myself with the street names a little more,” Pimpan said. “We’ve never seen this time of year and that’s interesting, every day is new in that respect. I do feel this weird anticipation for when everyone’s back and I feel like this is borrowed time right now like everything is on pause and we’re just in this little bubble that we can just operate and learn about the area in.”

Although missing her fellow Whitties, Wait spoke on the solidarity she has found with other students still remaining on campus.

“One of my favorite things about being on campus right now is that there are other people still on campus,” Wait said. “If you’re walking around and see people you know, everyone is still being safe and careful about staying a distance away from each other, but people are just so excited to see a real live human, so there are vigorous waves and smiles.”