Monday morning will mark the first day of college for the freshman class at the University of Kentucky – yes, even amid the pandemic.
As thousands of teenagers descended upon Lexington and moved into the on-campus dorms over the past few days, the University maintained a college atmosphere while enforcing necessary and strict safety protocols.
As has been common with most dorms in the past, students were required to make an appointment for when they would move in. I’ll be honest, as a student who has lived in the dorms in the past, the appointments were more of a guideline rather than a rigid deadline. With the current crisis, the set times were obeyed a bit stronger, although the usual commotion of hundreds of kids moving their belongings into towering dorm buildings somewhat persisted.
However, the University was impressively prepared, as it should be, and seemed a bit wary of my presence:
The University announced over the summer that any students who would be attending class physically would be required to pass a COVID-19 test once they arrived on campus, although not necessarily before. The testing line moved smoothly – and was done via appointment as to negate possible large crowds or long lines, which were socially distanced in their micro-versions. Even if a student had not already signed up for a test, they were prompted to and could easily be tested that day without a huge wait.
As for the inside of the dorms, signs and room advisors (R.A. in college-speak) pleaded for social distancing, and masks were required everywhere outside of the individual rooms. Luckily, I did not witness any anti-masker tirades and nearly everyone – from parents to students to dormitory employees – was respectful of the suggested six-foot social distance and kept their masks on inside the building and around others in the concourse.
The whole move-in process was much more organized than in my past couple of years – because it had to be. Students were greeted with a seven-step guide for moving in which included: An explanation for why social distancing and face coverings are vital, a reminder to obey the time-table for checking in, parking, unloading and packing belongings in a pre-cleaned cart, and moving through the building in an effective, safe manner before a mandatory self-inspection of their room.
Posted several places in the lobby and throughout the dorms was an additional safety guide to further hammer home the sticking points for maintaining a safe environment for students. Again, social distancing and masks, but it also urged folks to avoid touching their face, to cover their mouths when they coughed (even with a mask on), to wash their hands regularly and to constantly be disinfecting and cleaning their rooms. To help practice the desired level of safety, students were each given a “healthy living starter kit” with masks, hand sanitizers, and hand wipes. Off-campus students could come and grab one as well.
The staff was committed to safely and efficiently moving everyone in. Testing locations offered tests in a timely fashion and – to me, most impressively – students and parents abided by theirs and others’ safety throughout the process. Walking around north campus felt homely. Sure, the masks took some getting used to, but they were barely noticeable by the time I got done strolling by the new wave of students and never-ending campus construction. College felt slightly normal for the first time since March, thanks to cooperation at every level.
Let’s hope that behavior is sustainable over the entire semester!