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Studying where you sleep: Students juggle living and working in the same room

DTH Photo Illustration. A student sits in front of her stylish and decorative room decor while on her Zoom meeting.

One aspect of the pandemic that has challenged many college students is having to live and work in a single space. First-year Madeline Gibson, for instance, has always felt shaped by the place where she lives — and having all aspects of her life in her dorm room has been mentally taxing. 

“All of my surroundings very much influence my emotions and the way I’m able to present myself and express how I’m feeling," Gibson said. "When I do all of those things in one place, it’s extremely difficult for me."

In pre-pandemic times, one-room life with a roommate was customary for college students. However, the many outlets offered then for eating, studying and exercising are not an option for students right now. 

Now that UNC has limited on-campus housing to single rooms, students are navigating being alone in their spaces. Even without a roommate, Gibson said she has been struggling to separate her school life from her personal one. 

“It’s honestly very difficult for me,” Gibson said. “I would honestly go a couple of days without leaving my room last semester."

First-year Jackie Stoehr said while the lack of a roommate gave her options for storage — including room for a “food desk” and a Harry Styles wall — life in her Hinton James Residence Hall dorm room still seems cluttered. 

“I made a couch area with extra blankets and pillows and I use the storage under the bed. And I use both closets entirely,” Stoehr said. 

Stoehr also played into pandemic life with a mask nook and hand sanitizer display, but she said nothing can replace human interaction. 

“It can be pretty lonely though," she said. "I take a lot of naps — because what else are you gonna do?”

Gibson said she agrees that there are some organizational benefits to living alone, but it can be hard having to operate out of one space.  

“The dorms are kind of weirdly shaped, so I pushed both of my beds together so I have a gigantic bed, which is kind of nice, and a gigantic desk,” Gibson said. “But I feel very isolated and very holed up in my room since I am doing everything in there.”

For first-year student Jessica Bring, the limited campus experience just wasn’t worth the risk. 

“Living at home is a lot more isolated, obviously, because you don’t have people you’re sharing a room with,” Bring said. “It’s a little bit more chill, though, because it’s your house and you’re more comfortable there, and you can really make the space your own more than in a dorm.”

Bring and Stoehr both said organizing their living spaces hasn’t been too difficult – bringing a yoga mat and keeping a clean Zoom desk is easy enough — but studying, eating and sleeping all in the same room is harder than it sounds. 

“If you’re not a very disciplined person, it's very difficult to get yourself to do something that seems optional, especially when the class is asynchronous, and to make sure you get things turned in on time,” Bring said. 

Gibson said that having to eat in her dorm room has been one of the more difficult parts of the pandemic for her. 

“I cannot stand eating in my room,” Gibson said. “Just the mess it makes, the anxiety it gives me, the smells. I hate eating in the place I sleep, but I have no choice.”

Gibson said the mental toll of constantly being in one space is a different kind of fatigue than she has ever experienced before. 

“Everything I’m doing affects the other things,” Gibson said. “Eating and studying in one room affects my sleep patterns and because I’m having to do that in the place that I sleep, I really don’t sleep that much anymore because of the stress translating from each part of my life.” 


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