Freshmen navigate off-campus spring semester housing amid the pandemic
Students adapt to living in D.C. for the first time
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on theeaglecoronavirusproject.com, a separate website created by Eagle staff at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. Articles from that website have been migrated to The Eagle’s main site and backdated with the dates they were originally published in order to allow readers to access them more easily.
Without having any prior on-campus experience, this will be the first time many first-year students will live away from home. With another semester of virtual learning, many American University freshmen decided to move to D.C. for the spring semester.
School of Public Affairs freshman Sonia Saini and her roommates decided it was time to find an apartment in D.C. after The George Washington University announced online classes would continue for the spring 2021 semester. Saini said she thought AU would follow GW’s footsteps, so at that point, their apartment search began.
“We were waiting for American to give the final decision of whether or not we would be on campus in the spring, and then once they sent that email and said, like, ‘hey we’re not going to let you guys on campus, we might do a mini-mester,’” Saini said. “I think that’s when I really started to take it seriously and I did some tours, so I knew I wanted to experience college somehow.”
Moving to a new apartment before having an on-campus residential experience makes some students, like Saini, believe they missed a key part of their freshman year at college.
“I kind of feel like I’ve skipped a part of my life because I feel like I’m in my 20s,” Saini said. “I’m moving to an apartment in a new city, and I definitely feel like there was an experience in between moving out of your house and moving to an apartment that I missed, which would be dorm life and college life, so it definitely is odd.”
Typically, students who live on campus take advantage of resources, like the 24-hour front desk service in residential halls, resident assistants and TDR. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, freshmen who moved into their own apartments for the first time have to navigate new responsibilities.
Along with the physical benefits of living in a residence hall, the social benefits would facilitate the transition of moving from home to a new city, said College of Arts and Sciences freshman Anish Kubal. He recently moved to an apartment in D.C. in the hopes of engaging with AU freshmen in the area but said it is difficult to find and connect with others at this time.
“I feel having an on-campus experience would help socially mainly because I would be surrounded by AU students compared to how I am living right now,” Kubal said. “The AU student base is sparsely populated all throughout D.C. right now, so having an on-campus experience would provide a sense of community. I still don’t understand what it means to be an Eagle or part of the AU community.”
With the Mid-Semester Residential Experience offering an on-campus residential experience to students beginning this March, social pressures influenced many students to find off-campus housing in the D.C. area for this spring semester.
“Overall, there are many reasons I ended up choosing moving to D.C. The main reason was the fear of being left out.” Kubal said. “A lot of freshmen have been flocking into D.C. during the spring semester, and I wanted to be able to solidify a friend group that I could rely upon later on.”
Freshmen are also facing the challenge of finding ways to actually meet other AU students while following safe social-distancing protocols.
“Now that we’re in the city and there’re so many AU freshmen who have moved in, it’s hard to meet people because you still have to be careful,” Saini said. “So even though we’re all in the same place, and you have the opportunity to meet people for classes, you still have to be careful, consider how you’re going to meet them and what you’re going to do because you just want to be safe.”
The AU Housing & Residence Life staff is working to help support students with online resources. Associate Director for First Year Experience Misty Denham-Barrett said that AU is offering a digital guide that allows students to find academic assistance, career planning resources, financial wellness and organization involvement opportunities.
“We know adjusting to living in a pandemic has been challenging for countless reasons, but one felt most directly across campus has been the feeling of community,” Denham-Barrett said. “Knowing the ways in which we all share in community would transition, for a period of time, to a virtual platform, the University developed a digital guide to engagement for all students.”
Students living on campus through emergency housing or for the upcoming mid-semester experience can connect with HRL staff members for resources if needed, Denham-Barrett said.
“Community building may look a little different right now, but the meaningful connections made between students, faculty and staff, continue to be developed and serve as the all-important foundations to our AU community,” Denham-Barrett said.