Mississippi State University's campus may be barren due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but several hundred students are still residing at MSU, getting food from the Perry cafeteria and doing their homework in their dorms as if it was any other semester.
Alexia Balderas, a resident advisor at Ruby Hall, said staying at her dorm has felt unusual but normal at the same time.
"There isn't much that's really different right now. It all just feels the same, except for the buildings being empty," Balderas said.
Since a majority of MSU students left the campus in March, Balderas said there have been new rules that residents have to abide by, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guideline of not congregating in groups of more than 10 in the residence halls. Balderas said that other than that, the university has not been too unnecessarily stringent on regulations and has helped MSU residents feel comfortable during their time at the halls.
Dante Hill, MSU's associate director for occupancy management and residential life, outlined the reasons behind university housing remaining open to some students.
"Although the university has shifted gears to online classes, we do still see a need for students to remain on campus because they might not have viable Internet access at home, or they might not have a good home life," Hill said. "They might suffer from homelessness, and so, we felt that it was important that we didn't kick any students off campus and tell them that they absolutely couldn't live with us."
To help with students' living situations, Hill said the university has put together food bags to deliver to the residence halls on campus.
"In terms of food and dining, we worked with Bully's Closet and Pantry to put together a bunch of food bags that we have on hand for any of our on-campus residents that may be suffering from food insecurity," Hill said. "We have frozen foods, nonperishable items, all sorts of things for a student who comes into some difficult times right now and needs a source of food."
These food bags can be accessed by any student at the residence hall in order to reduce movement on campus. Balderas said these food bags given to the students are enough to last for a full meal.
"They give you a lot of food. If I'm being honest, I wouldn't be able to finish all the food that they give us, and you get to pick and choose what you want," Balderas said.
Erin Sanders, a senior aerospace engineering major residing at Ruby Hall, described how the lack of sufficient internet access at her home deterred her from returning home.
"While I love my family, it is a lot easier to focus on my academics in an environment that the dorms provide," Sanders said.
Sanders also described how her experience staying at her dorm this semester has changed from her experience in previous semesters.
"It has definitely been different mostly due to the number of people around. The parking situation has certainly been much better with fewer people," Sanders said.
Sanders said she has been able to set a schedule for her classes and make more time to exercise.
"I'm working on sticking to a schedule with my online classes," Sanders said. "Then, of course, getting out of my dorm to go to the dining hall for meals as well as going outside to run around Chadwick Lake. That has been a wonderful time to be able to go outside and work out."
Sanders said she is also glad about the flexibility that the dorms offer in terms of opening the P.O.D Markets and relying on MSU's internet service.
"I am very glad that we have still been able to use the dining services. They have made the P.O.Ds available so that we can get some more things," Sanders said. "I am also grateful that they've kept this option available to us. Unlike a lot of my friends who are at other universities who have been told they've had to leave, with myself staying at the dorms, I can get to the reliable internet connection."
According to Hill, many of the resident advisors are connecting with former MSU residents who have moved out of their dorms through GroupMe and WebEx as a way to check on these students and ensure they are not isolated from the community that MSU offers.
Hill also said many RAs are doing WebEx movie nights while still maintaining social distancing. To improve residents' cooking skills, one community director is planning on hosting cooking classes to teach residents how to cook from a distance.
Hill said these methods will ensure that students residing at the residence halls and students who have gone home will still have a connection with the university.
"We are here for our students, and we want to make sure that the ones that are here have everything they need. And we've also tried to continue to engage with students who are not here, who have gone home," Hill said. "As a whole, I think that the Division of Student Affairs is trying to create opportunities for students to continue to interact without being face-to-face but still interacting."