The spring semester is back in full swing with this week kicking off the start of in-person classes at Utica College. Students and staff have seen some changes made this semester, and look forward to where they believe the rest of the semester is headed.
General Manager of the UC dining services Damian Boehlert is in charge of ensuring students and staff have a safe place to dine. The introduction of “Grab n’ Go meals,” which are meals already pre-prepared and packaged for take out, are still available this semester. As well as following the New York State guidelines of 50 percent occupancy when dining indoors.
“So far it has been going very well,” he said. “I believe that everyone has a seat when they come in for a meal.”
With some restrictions being lifted as time goes on, Boehlert hopes to bring back the usual china plates as opposed to the disposable plastic and paper plates and increase offerings over the next month.
In some ways, students and staff have been flexible with adapting to the many changes made on campus in order to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions.
From a student perspective, freshman Jonathan Simmons understands the regulations needed in order to ensure UC stays partially open. Yet, he said students need more of a voice in what is being served in the dining hall.
“The majority of my meals have sandwiches every day, or chicken and rice,” he said. “As students, we can come to expect the same rotation of food throughout the weeks we are here.”
Boehlert advised anyone who is struggling with restrictions or offerings to speak with him at any time. He is open to new ideas and answering any questions or concerns.
“We are far ahead of other institutions when it comes to dining,” he said.
Residing on campus is typically a normal and fun experience for students. However, as the weather grows colder and the pandemic guidelines become stricter, some students have trouble enjoying the campus lifestyle.
“When it was warm, we could sit outside and do things socially distanced,” Freshman Daijon Richards said. “I hope that some restrictions lift as it gets a little warmer out towards the end of the semester.”
Simmons added that some of the rules are difficult to follow. Residing in North Hall, he said the study room is closed and all residents in that hall must find their own study space. Meanwhile, they are also unable to meet with other students to work on class assignments or hang out.
“The toll it takes on our social life and academic life is massive,” he said. “The bottom line is the COVID-19 rules are making learning, socializing and living a lot harder than it needs to be.”
Simmons suggested opening up campus a bit more in hopes it will reduce the number of people leaving campus to go to the malls or casinos, reducing positive cases and ensuring students have a positive college experience.
“Everyone is going to go off campus to find things to do,” he said.
Simmons and Richards are both athletes on the men’s track and field team.
Simmons said athletes are tested three times a week for COVID-19. They are also watched “prudently” for a mistake that can cost them to either be kicked off their sports team or even kicked off-campus.
Richards suggests that athletes should be able to rapid test before their practice time in order to practice without masks. According to both, masks can become unsanitary quickly and make it difficult to breathe.
Enforcing policy can be a daunting task, at least from the perspective of resident assistants, including Jayme Connolly. However, she said the college is doing a great job with the way it is handling the pandemic.
“We have proper rules in place, our faculty has numerous meetings weekly to talk about the updates from New York State and we are adjusting day by day,” she said.
Since last semester, there have been some changes regarding how RAs should handle COVID protocols and a new section dedicated just to COVID was added in the student handbook.
Connolly, like other students, wants to enjoy campus to its fullest. She said in order to do that everyone must continue to follow the rules and social distance.
“It has surely been hard for students on campus to socialize with others in other buildings and especially now since the weather does not permit outside activities,” she said. “One place students have really relied on to see each other is the cafeteria, thankfully this is a place where you can see others at a safe distance.”
One thing Connolly would love to see change is the usage of the common areas. She feels as though with the right regulations and cleaning that it can be a great way for students to see one another.
“I think the restrictions are something we can all work with,” Richards said. “The best thing we can do is continue to COVID test. We have way better rates than other local colleges.”