Rose wakes up early most mornings in her 12 by 12 Oscar Peterson Hall (OPH) room. After brushing her teeth and getting dressed, she walks to the Davis building to get her morning coffee—there aren’t many places that are open anymore. She puts on her mask and takes the elevator down to the first floor, which smells like bleach. Outside, she occasionally sees a person walking with food in their hands or smoking a cigarette in a designated smoking area.
The Davis building is empty. Rose grabs her coffee and goes back outside, walking the main circle—IB, ICCIT, and the Deerfield buildings—five or six times, just to get her daily steps in. With her morning coffee cup empty and feeling a bit tired, she goes back to her room.
Her day, full of Zoom meetings and lectures, begins.
When she feels hungry, she orders a meal online from the student canteen downstairs, Colman Commons. Rose takes another bleach-smelling elevator downstairs and grabs her food, which is already ready and packaged in a bag.
Rose Twomey is a fourth-year student majoring in CCIT and PWC and a Don for one of the student communities in OPH. Her days are similar to most students on campus, who all tend to isolate in their rooms and leave only out of necessity.
For Rose, the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic was very challenging. “I would wake up in my single bed and have a Zoom class half an hour later, where I don’t really need to turn the camera on,” she shares. “It’s very easy just to stay in your pajamas all day because no one really sees you.” That’s why she chooses to walk every day—not only because Davis has the best coffee, but to get out of bed and get ready. She encourages her students to go on walks too.
The window in Rose’s room shows the front of OPH and McLuhan residences. Out there, she sees many people just walking by themselves. “It is like a religious practice here,” Rose says.
The UTM campus is empty most days. Students have to wear masks anywhere outside of their unit. Common areas are being sanitized daily, and most residences doubled the number of hand-sanitizer dispensers available to students.
All of the residences remain open, operating at half-full capacities. The only residences closed are Erindale Hall and McLuhan. At the start of the semester, those residences were used to quarantine students that came to campus internationally. “Right now, they are completely offline, except for quarantine and self-isolating situations,” Rose mentions.
Colman Commons is one of the only places serving food right now, other than Chatime and the Blind Duck. Each time you get food, you have to sign-in. You leave your name, phone number, and the time you were there—contact tracing is quite vigorous.
There’s no eating inside allowed, so students have to settle on takeout and bring the food to their rooms. Some students, who live in a townhouse and have a kitchen, avoid going out for food on campus altogether. “I have my groceries delivered to my door. Better safe than sorry,” an anonymous student shared.
Even with Covid-19 scares, living in residence is still a comfortable and preferable experience for some students. Hamza bin Waheed, who is in his second year in the commerce program, is an international student. He decided to come back to campus because he did not want to forfeit his position as President of the Residence Council, but that was not his only reason. “When I am in residence, I feel like more of a student,” Waheed shares. “There is also a 10-hour time difference between my country and Canada. I don’t want to be doing my lectures past midnight.”
Another source shares that since they lived in residence for the last two years, they did not want to look for another place. The convenience of living in residence is something that they do not wish to give up.
Although mostly confined to their rooms, students rarely have time to be bored with online lectures and schoolwork taking up most of their time. “The work is never-ending. Sometimes I’m done with my meetings around 1 a.m.,” Waheed states.
Nadira Sharif, a second-year biology and psychology student and a Residence Council executive, shares that she stayed in residence at the start of the pandemic. “It was tougher in the beginning since I did not have contact with anyone and only went outside to grab food,” she shares.
Last year, Sharif was one of the students residing in OPH and adjusting to the new reality. This year, she lives in a townhouse at Putnam, with her friends living nearby. They all take necessary precautions to ensure that they are staying safe from the virus. “It’s not that bad this year. With all these Zoom lectures, at least I still feel like a student when living in residence,” says Sharif.
When asked about students’ social circles, Rose shares that the students are permitted to have friends in their rooms. “It’s totally okay,” she says. “But off-campus guests are not allowed.” It is hard to enforce, as Dons usually don’t know and, frankly, can’t know everyone who currently lives in residence. “It’s each individuals’ responsibility, and we hope that the students will respect the rules,” Rose explains. And they do—many other students report the same resident protocol. The UTM student community has turned away from parties and toward social responsibility.
“Coming into this year, I had no idea what it would be like. I thought there would be an outbreak within the first week,” Rose says. “But there hasn’t been any. I am very proud of how everyone has been handling restrictions.” Rose says that most students have been extremely careful and responsible. “You get an odd student walking down the hall without a mask, but that’s because they forgot to put it on. Most of the time, they rush to their room to get it.” Rose mentions that she hasn’t heard any “anti-mask” talk at all. Even if there were, the university would not tolerate it.
After two cases were announced at the Student Center in September, Rose said that some students decided to self-isolate out of precaution. In this case, the university delivered food to their door. “It is nerve-wracking when you walk down the hallway and see paper bags outside people’s doors. It is usually a dead giveaway,” Rose shares. The university also puts little orange stickers on the doors of people in quarantine, so if anyone sees a person leaving a room with an orange mark and a paper bag, it raises some alarms.
“UTM has done a really good job. We have had very few Covid-19 cases on residence compared to other schools like Western, for example,” says Rose. This comes after Western University declared an outbreak in its largest residence with eight residents testing positive for Covid-19. “A bunch of my friends from home goes there. It is such a different mentality,” she concludes.
UTM residence does not have any positive cases at the moment. Only two students tested positive at the beginning of the semester. However, there was no further community spread. “UTM residence is like a little village,” Rose says with a laugh. “We are so separate from the Peel Region. I see how many cases are popping up in Mississauga. Yet, our campus has had a remarkably low number of cases, and hopefully, it will stay that way.”