For most students, the experience of living on-campus at UNC means getting to know their roommates and meeting friends in their residence halls. But this spring, students are adjusting to life in a dorm room by themselves.
UNC is only offering single-occupancy dorm rooms for students living on-campus this semester as a safety measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the semester has just started, some students have already found it hard to live and work in their dorms.
Ronik Grewal, a first-year living in Hinton James Residence Hall, lived at home during the fall semester following dorm de-densification efforts by the University. He said coming back to school was an adjustment after being home, where he was able to be with his family.
“Everyone's doors are shut and sometimes there’s not even any lights on," Grewal said. "So it's kind of a little lonely and isolated sometimes, especially at night."
There are some advantages to a single dorm though, he said.
“One good thing is that you get your alone time,” Grewal said. “First semester, I had a roommate so I couldn't do stuff on my own too much.”
Grewal said socializing online through Zoom has also been a way to stay connected.
Nishtha Mukherji, another first-year living in Hinton James, is an international student who did not come to campus in the fall because of visa challenges.
Mukherji said she sleeps, takes classes and does workouts in her dorm. It can be sad at times, she said, but she still finds some ways to socialize safely.
“I spent most of my day alone in my room, but then I get lunch or dinner with one of my suite mates,” she said.
Mukherji said one positive aspect of living in a single room is the space.
“Everyone just says it's going to be so hard adjusting because you won't have enough space for your clothes or any of your stuff, and then suddenly you just have so much space and you don't know what to do with it,” Mukherji said.
The Residence Hall Association (RHA) has had to make adjustments to its programming this semester to combat the loneliness and lack of connection that can come with living in a single dorm room.
Kira Griffith, the president of RHA, said the housing community has been forced to be more innovative due to the lack of in-person events, but is still creating community virtually.
“Part of the learning was just saying, 'Yes, we can do it,'” Griffith said. “We can still create some kind of social interaction and fun for students, even though everybody's kind of virtual.”
Eva Kinney, the RHA internal affairs officer, said she started her role during the pandemic, and had to adjust to virtual programming.
“We wanted to make sure that students from Carolina, not necessarily just students that lived on-campus, but just students in general, had the ability to socialize with others and still have fun activities that weren't in-person, that way they won't have to risk their health,” Kinney said.
Kinney said RHA organized an Among Us night in the fall, as well as Find Your Friends, a program for first-years that allowed them to connect with each other.
Still, lack of social connection can be difficult, especially for students.
Allen O’Barr, the director of UNC Counseling and Psychological Services, said social isolation is hard because everyone is used to having people around to talk to — and it can be tougher to reach out when they’re not there.
“It's interesting because I think in isolation, even in the single occupancy, one day is a good day, one day is not a good day,” O’Barr said.
The most important thing, he said, is for people to check in with themselves each day.
“If you're not doing that great, really reach out to try to talk to somebody, even if it's just a little slow, because I still think we're in it for a long haul,” O’Barr said. “It's a good idea to have some form of practice or checking in with yourself.”
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