Over the past six months, the incoming class of 2024 has experienced the ‘untraditional’ more than most.
Zoom prom, online classes, and drive-by graduations have replaced the usual senior year rites of passage in an unprecedented and sudden way to say goodbye to high school.
“Senior year ended kind of abruptly. Now I’m expecting things to not work out,” Kim Nguyen, ConEd ’25, said of any plans associated with university.
As September approaches, the incoming class’s untraditional experiences aren’t over yet. With the capacity of residence slashed, many members of the Class of 2024 have spent the summer devising alternate plans.
Due to COVID-19 and with academic delivery mainly remote for the fall semester, university residences will only be operating at 50 per cent of their normal capacity, housing 2,300 students in single-occupancy rooms only.
Students were offered a spot in residence based on a priority basis. If their application for residence was successful, they received their offers by July 22.
Students living in residence can expect to follow strict guidelines due to COVID-19. As it stands, no one is allowed in a residence room except its occupant, and physical distancing and masks will be enforced in public areas such as bathrooms.
Traditionally, the vast majority of first-year students at Queen’s live in one of the University’s 17 residences. Many students look back fondly on their year in residence—it’s thought of as a place where many friendships and memories are made. Spending first year away from home in a residence often functions as a transition between living at home and living independently in upper years.
Eesha Kohli, Comm ’24, planned on living in Queen’s residence before the pandemic, but will now stay home with her parents in Mississauga.
“Ideally, I’d like to be in residence and able to go to class normally, but the decision was instant for me,” she said.
“The pros [of living in residence or off-campus housing] aren’t enough to justify spending that much money for online classes.”
Nguyen will also be living at home in Guelph. “The decision was financially based. I financially couldn’t apply for a single room or a single-plus. It was logical for me to stay at home since classes are online, and all the resources will be, too. What’s the point of living on-campus or off of campus?”
Russell Mandel, Sci ’24, took a different route and will be living in an off-campus house with a group of friends he knows from home.
“The freedoms of having a house with my friends really outweighed what it’s going to be like to live in residence with all the restrictions,” he said. “You’re not allowed any guests, which is really tough. If I have a friend in a different residence and I want to see them, they can’t come into my building.”
The process of organizing a house from Toronto—considering having not spent a year at Queen’s like most students have before moving off-campus—initiated unique difficulties for Mandel.
“It started with five guys from my high school, and then we invited two more guys going to Queen’s. The number of people in the house was rising and falling, but we ended up with eight guys, which is a lot, but should be fun,” he said.
Mandel said his housemate spent several weeks looking at 15 to 20 off-campus housing options before settling on a house the entire group felt happy with. “Eventually we got to the house that we’re at now, which is really good for first year. I don’t know about whether it’s a great location past first year, but it’s right by campus and residence so it’s perfect for us.”
Ultimately, Mandel is pleased with where he’ll be living come September amid the current circumstances in residence.
“For what the situation is, I’m happy. We couldn’t have done better than what we got in this current situation. But if I could have gotten [residence], that would’ve been ideal.”
Kohli, Nguyen, and Mandel all chose to apply for residence despite their reservations. Nguyen said she’s found communications from Queen’s about residence to be “pretty fair” and that the application was easy to navigate.
As for the residence experience, she’s not setting the bar high.
“I don’t have many expectations for residence since COVID-19 is so new,” she said.
With that said, Nguyen knows she’s missing out on aspects of first year she looked forward to before COVID-19 hit.
“I do feel like I’m missing out on the university experience of going out and getting decorations for my dorm and living on my own.” However, she feels Queen’s has been doing its best to make things as normal as possible for incoming students.
Kohli is still hoping to live in residence for the winter term. The University informed incoming first-years the decision about whether residence availability will change in the winter is “dependent on whether [the University] chooses to do online classes for the winter term.”
The University hasn’t communicated whether the price will be lowered for students if they only live in residence for one semester, but provided refunds to all students who moved out at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
All three students interviewed spoke of a level of disappointment at the untraditional living arrangements come September.
“We’ve looked forward to first year freedom and the university experience for so long,” said Kohli.
“I’m afraid of missing out […] everyone says you make all your friends and social connections in residence, and I’m sad to miss out on frosh week.”
Mandel expressed excitement at the prospect of living with friends, but knows the moments he’ll be missing out on that define the first-year experience. “I wanted to meet new people, and living in a house with people I already know takes away from that whole experience,” he said.
“But for the most part, I think people do not want to stay home. You want some aspect of normalcy with your university experience, especially the beginning.”
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