An Open Letter to Residential Life: The Off-Campus Process is Unfair

I love Colgate. Every Spring, I leave campus with a full heart and memories of the school and specifically, the people I love that this community has given me. I left this past spring, after junior year, with the same sentiments. The year was difficult, different, entirely unprecedented, restricted and stressful. But at the same time that it was all of these negatively connotated adjectives, it was also one of my favorite years yet. The inability to leave our dorms or houses for two weeks straight, twice, and then sparsely following these quarantines, allowed and facilitated a new closeness between myself and my friends, as we lived in close quarters in one of the on-campus townhouses. Being able to live with, cook and eat with, workout with, attend online classes with and grow through an incredibly divergent year was a unique and powerful experience. The inability to have visitors or visit home for months, the longest period most of us have experienced without interaction with our families, meant that the relationships with friends and roommates took on a familial quality. 

Thoughts of a vaccinated and maskless senior year with more freedom were light on many of the dark, cold and isolated days this past spring. Moreover, thoughts of living in the downtown apartment were beacons of excitement and motivators to follow social-distancing requirements throughout the spring.

When we were emailed that only five of our group of ten friends were approved to live off-campus for senior year, that was a strong and demoralizing blow. The way that off-campus housing has been handled for this coming year, following one of the most difficult and compromising school years in history, feels, frankly, unfair. When Colgate demanded that we quarantine for two weeks, give up the luxury of seeing faces and smiles, stop eating together in communal spaces, eliminate social activities and sports events while also denying the privilege of visiting home or seeing family, amongst many other requirements, those of us that ventured back to campus agreed and obliged. We changed our habits and lives at this school for the safety of our community; for this I am very proud of the student and faculty body, and I am immensely grateful for the dedication of the school to allow us to return. However, the work and sacrifice that the students made on our end for this to occur feels thankless.

After surrendering all of our freedom simply to come back to campus, for a year, it feels like a punishment to be told we cannot have the freedom to either live with our friends or enjoy the freedom of living more like adults downtown. 

Residential life — though I acknowledge how difficult your job is, I hope you empathize with the severity of the punishment of not being allowed to live off-campus, particularly this year. I, along with much of the current incoming senior class, intended to study abroad for a semester of my junior year. I was stripped of that privilege due to COVID-19, and instead rarely left my 10 by 8-foot dorm room last year. To lose this experience and then subsequently also lose the small freedom of being a senior and living in the heart of beautiful Hamilton, where stores and restaurants offer a semblance of excitement and liveliness, is frustrating. Further, I feel tricked by hypocrisy; all year we received emails titled “Colgate Together,” urging diligence and isolation for the safety of the school and community. I, as well as all of the rising senior class, followed these guidelines, simply because we love this school and community. These guidelines allowed and encouraged me to spend all of my time with my friends and roommates, yet now Residential Life is splitting up the ten people who were one support system and who became family over the course of last school year.

 In speaking to many other rising seniors, this situation is not uncommon. There are too many seniors whose excitement about returning, to what should be the best of our four years at Colgate, is dulled due to separation of friends and a broken promise to experience the senior privilege of living off-campus, that many of us have anticipated since our arrival at Colgate.

Seeing how hard the administration worked this past year to bring students back to campus, I do believe that student’s best interests are at heart. Why have so many seniors been denied this privilege, and what will it take to fix it?