Students Adjust to Living on a Closed Campus

Few who remain in Kent State residence halls experience campus 'ghost town.'

When Kent State University closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, not all students living on the Kent Campus were able to leave. 

In a typical semester, about 6,200 students live in the residence halls. By March 20, just 52 students remained. 

COVID-19 concerns forced the university to close all campuses on March 13. The university suspended face-to-face instruction and switched to all remote learning on March 16. Students living in residence halls were told they would have to leave their rooms by March 20. Students who were unable to leave campus, for a variety of reasons, were consolidated into Stopher Hall and Johnson Hall. 

Alex Bakhaus, interim area coordinator for Stopher, Johnson, Lake and Olson Halls, lives in an on-campus apartment during the academic year so that she may remain connected to the student residential communities. She also remains on call for crisis response and student support. 

Residence halls, Bakhaus said, now “are definitely quieter.” 

“We see a lot less traffic in the halls as residents practice social distancing,” she said. “We try to maintain a sense of normalcy by continuing student support services and providing opportunities to connect remotely.”

Life on Campus

Staff on campus continues to support students

When the campus closed, the majority of professional and student campus staff was sent home for their safety, as well as the safety of employees and residents. Some staffers, like Bakhaus, continued to work on campus, providing mail service, printing and other operations essential to the students still living on campus. Student security aides also perform building walk-throughs to ensure that the halls are safe and secure. Housekeeping and maintenance also worked diligently to keep buildings operating and disinfected for students. 

Some of Bakhaus’ new duties in the pandemic included preparing for summer operations that are very different from years past and coordinating the distribution of gift cards, donated by local businesses, to the resident students. 

Serving students is her focus

Bakhaus said her primary job has remained unchanged. “We are advocating for and serving our students, regardless if they are on or off campus right now.” She said students are facing added stressors, with courses moving online, having to make new living arrangements, potentially losing employment, feeling less connected to their peers and loved ones, and dealing with the anxiety the pandemic has created. Bakhaus observed that this transition is especially difficult for marginalized students who now might not have access to the resources they need or may be returning home to environments that are not conducive to their learning and success as a student. 

Bakhaus also works with parents to answer their questions and help their students apply for housing for the Fall 2020 Semester. “The parents and students I have interacted with have been patient and kind,” she said. “It is great to know that our Kent State community is so strong.”

Bakhaus credits the university and specifically the Division of Student Affairs with “making decisions with the best interests of our staff and students in mind.” 

“We have been given opportunities to connect with fellow staff to maintain relationships, gain support and continue our professional development from home,” she said. Bakhaus said that university leaders have been “empathetic and flexible,” and are “doing everything they can to support us through all of these changes.”

Resident assistants provide a student connection

Resident Assistants (RAs) are an important part of residential life on campus. Bakhaus co-supervised the RAs that remained on campus as well as those who were working remotely. The RAs have been essential in providing remote programming for Stopher/Johnson residents to attend, including virtual movie nights. The RAs, Bakhaus said, were working hard to connect with residents one-on-one to provide support and services. “The RAs, like any other students, are facing the stress of our new reality,” she said. “I am proud of our team for caring so much and working hard to ensure that our residents are supported. They are passionate and compassionate leaders who want to help their residents succeed. That drive has not faded, given our current circumstance.”

One RA who remained on campus is Bre Armstrong, a sophomore, majoring in human development and family studies, with a concentration in family life. 

Armstrong chose to stay on campus to help the remaining student residents. “I felt it was a good decision to stay and provide some familiarity, along with some comfort in these troubling times,” she said. 

Armstrong was living in Koonce Hall when she received the news that she would be moving to “StoJo,” as she calls the Stopher-Johnson complex. With her small car, the process took multiple trips.

A different atmosphere on campus

When it came to adapting to life on a nearly empty campus, Armstrong considers herself “neutral.”  She has a close friend who is also staying on campus who shares this ambivalent feeling. While she enjoys being alone, Armstrong said she misses her friends and her usual day-to-day routine. “Just the thought of being able to knock on their doors or having the driving force of classes pulling me out of bed made my day,” Armstrong said. Missing her friends, she said “has brought an explicit gratitude for the connections we make and how we are showing our appreciation for our loved ones.”

Her feeling is that the normal atmosphere of campus is gone. “It’s like a ghost town,” Armstrong said. “Seeing the masses of students making their way to their destinations produces a physical energy that can only be felt by a Flash,” she said. 

Kent State went 'above and beyond'

Armstrong believes the administration at Kent State has gone “above and beyond during these stressful times.” As examples, she lists classes being up and running three days after the campus closed; clear and swift updates when new information was available; quick reassignment of the remaining students to new housing and assistance given to students who were returning home. She commended the university for allowing faculty and staff to work from home while continuing to receive compensation. 

She also noted the grants being offered to students in need and “generous donations and acts of Kent State organizations, along with Kent businesses and the community.

“I would say that this pandemic has made me nothing but more prideful to be a student and a community member at this school,” she said. 

POSTED: Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 1:10pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 8, 2020 - 2:18pm
Phil Soencksen