From Dorms To Dating, What It’s Like To Navigate College During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Elizabeth LeBeau Q&A
Darrell Hoemann, Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ
Elizabeth LeBeau Q&A
Darrell Hoemann, Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ

From Dorms To Dating, What It’s Like To Navigate College During The COVID-19 Pandemic

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This fall, we’ve been checking in with Elizabeth LeBeau, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, as she navigates her first semester of college during the coronavirus pandemic. Before heading home for an extended break, she took over the WBEZ Instagram account and answered some of your questions about how COVID-19 has impacted campus life.

Here are a few highlights, as seen on Instagram and told to WBEZ reporters:

What do students do for food?

The dining halls are still open, but at limited capacity. They only really let us take out our food and eat it in our dorms, and they only opened indoor seating after the weather started getting cold.

Sometimes I use the express pickup option [prepackaged meals] or grab something from “57,” which is our cafe credit store, kind of like a convenience store.

Whenever the dining hall menu looks so bad that I’d rather eat my hand, I’ll hit up McDonald’s for chicken nuggets and fries or get pad thai from Bangkok Thai on Green Street!

Elizabeth LeBeau Starbucks
Darrell Hoemann / WBEZ

How do you navigate roommate relationships?

Roommate relationships have been a bit different this semester. A lot of people don’t have roommates this semester because of the amount of people who canceled housing contracts. If I ever had issues with my roommate, we usually just worked it out ourselves because we knew we were going to see each other a lot.

As far as pandemic precautions go, we’re both pretty comfortable having other people in the room that are within our social bubbles, but we wouldn’t bring new people over without checking in first. My boyfriend doesn’t have a roommate, so I would mostly hang out with him in his room.

Elizabeth in dorm
Caden Chamness / WBEZ

Was it hard to connect with professors?

For me, it did feel a lot more challenging and that’s because most of my professors decided to make the class asynchronous, where you watch pre-recorded lectures online instead of having a class meeting. I just can’t learn like that, so I ended up dropping one of those classes. I also have two classes that meet over Zoom, and one class that met in person.

Professors do have office hours, but they’re at the most inconvenient times.

Elizabeth LeBeau in class
Darrell Hoemann / WBEZ

Can you study in the library?

You have to reserve a spot at the library a day in advance and you can only stay for two hours, so because of that I haven’t been going to the library that much. It’s just a big hassle.

I typically study in my room or outside if the weather is nice. The student center also has study spaces available for students.

Elizabeth LeBeau in dorm
Caden Chamness / WBEZ

Does college hookup culture still exist?

I’m not the best person to speak on this because I started dating my boyfriend the first week of school. We met in the laundry room and ended up talking for like two hours. My roommate called me and was like, “Where are you? Are you still alive?!”

But from what I hear, hookup culture is alive and well — with or without COVID. Most people show each other the Safer Illinois app, which is what they use to get into buildings. It’s like, “You tested negative? Cool, I also tested negative!” People share wild stories on private confession pages on Instagram.

Do you feel safe? Do you wish the school had done anything differently?

Yes, I do feel safe on campus. We have to get tested twice a week, and if you test positive or spent time with someone who tested positive, you have to quarantine immediately for two weeks in a special dorm for quarantiners.

With our testing and quarantining capabilities, I feel safer here than I do at home. The only thing I wish they did differently was having better resources for mental health. Many people are struggling.

Elizabeth LeBeau campus
Darrell Hoemann / WBEZ

Are you glad to be on campus?

There are a ton of people who chose to study remotely, but I chose to go on campus because I knew I would focus better on my schoolwork. I’m a pretty independent person by nature and knew that living at home while I could be at school would be a bad choice for me. Even though I have friends and a job at home, I would be missing out on campus life, even if it wasn’t normal.

Favorite ways to spend time on campus?

I really like walking around the quad area. There’s a nook by the architecture building that’s really pretty and has good WiFi so I study there sometimes in the shade.

I also like grabbing coffee at Dunkin’ on Green Street or Starbucks in the student union. There’s only so much a keurig can do for you, especially when you’re used to having so much caffeine in a day. I usually need about three cups!

Elizabeth LeBeau quad
Darrell Hoemann / WBEZ

Libby Berry is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow her @libbaberry. Katherine Nagasawa is WBEZ’s audience engagement producer. Follow her @Kat_Nagasawa.