Penn welcomed students back to on-campus housing this past week for the first time since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced campus life to operate remotely. Many first years finally took their first steps down Locust Walk, with some expressing excitement and others voicing concerns about safety.
Many students were glad to return to Penn and praised the efficiency of the move-in process, during which students were designated two-hour timeslots, but some expressed concerns about the clarity and effectiveness of the Quiet Period. The Quiet Period, which will last until Feb. 1, requires students to limit movement outside of their residences to essential purposes to curb the spread of the virus.
Essential activities permitted under Quiet Period guidelines include going to University testing sites, ordering contactless food delivery, engaging in outdoor exercise, spending time outside with no more than 10 students, and conducting approved lab or research activities. Students must wear masks and practice social distancing during these activities.
College first year Sofia Wawrzyniak, who moved into Lauder College House on Jan. 12, said her confidence in Penn’s reopening plan is “shaky.”
“A lot of people I’ve talked to still aren’t sure what the quiet period is,” Wawrzyniak said, adding that she wished Penn would have communicated the guidelines more effectively.
Penn announced its Quiet Period regulations in an Oct. 30 email to undergraduates, instructing students to limit contact to those within their social pods and leave residences only for essential reasons. A Jan. 6 College Houses and Academic Services email to campus residents and a Jan. 14 University-wide email to undergraduates contained more detailed instructions and a list of acceptable Quiet Period activities.
College first year Michael Nolan felt that the regulations were clear, but wished Penn would have released the guidelines earlier.
"It felt like [Quiet Period guidelines were] dropped on us late," Nolan said.
He found the move-in process to be a positive experience, adding that his first few days on campus have been more fun than he expected as a result of meeting other first years and socializing within the guidelines.
“It’s been a lot more fun than I expected," Nolan said. "Seeing people again and like talking to people has been really great.“
Nolan said, however, that he has seen groups of first years sitting and eating very close together outside of 1920 Commons and is concerned that some students are not taking regulations as seriously as they should be.
College first year and Quad resident Shrey Khatiwada voiced a similar sentiment, adding that “some of the rules and regulations they put in don’t add up." Khatiwada noticed that in the Quad, some students are assigned to bathrooms two floors away from their room, causing extra traffic in the halls.
Some students, including College first year Talia Stern and Wharton first year Augie Irving, who are both Quad residents, said they did not see much of a difference between the Quiet Period and commonly implemented stay-at-home COVID-19 restrictions. Stern noted that although regulations are less strict than she expected, she still feels safe, expressing confidence in Penn’s capacity to control the virus.
Wawrzyniak said she also feels safe on campus because she has seen many people wearing masks.
College first year and Quad resident Olivia Mayfryer said she felt Penn was taking social distancing seriously. While she was getting food at 1920 Commons, she saw dining staff ask a group of congregated students to spread apart. During the Quiet Period, dining hall meals are served in a "grab-and-go" format to discourage crowding.
Mayfryer added that in her experience, students were adhering to the Quiet Period to the point where she felt lonely. She said she does not see many students moving around campus except for necessities.
College first year Zoe Millstein also felt the restrictions were being taken seriously, adding that although she is bored during the day because she is making an effort to follow the guidelines, she feels safe on campus.
“If I’m trying to stay safe and making friends who are also being safe, I’ll be okay,” said Millstein.
June Ahn, a College first year living in Lauder, said he “met more people in the first two days than all of last semester” and was impressed with Penn’s testing efforts. Undergraduates must get a saliva test twice per week at one of several testing locations on campus.
Some students expressed fear that Penn may eventually close campus housing and send students back home, citing peer institution Stanford University, which closed spring housing days before most undergraduates were set to move in.
"I’m definitely surprised that we’re all here," Khatiwada said.
Wawrzyniak echoed this, adding that she felt both excitement and hesitation about coming to campus.
"I thought being home in the fall was almost a blessing because I got to spend time with my family, so I'm a bit sad to see them go," Wawrzyniak said. "But I'm happy to be here now, I just hope nothing happens."