Alex Taranto

When Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24 first arrived on campus, she wasn’t met with the crush of cheering upperclassmen who would normally help first year students in Branford move into Vanderbilt Hall on Old Campus. Instead, she was dropped off by a relative at Branford College and was met with professional movers and a white tent where she took her first of many coronavirus tests.

Move-in for first years is normally a long process: parents book hotels, families travel to Ikea and Target for last-minute supplies, and students navigate the endless registrations, lines and activities that happen during orientation. This year, however, was different. First years who came from unrestricted states or international locations could have one parent come to their dorm to unpack for a two hour slot. Everyone else moved in alone. 

“It was kind of sad moving all of my stuff in and unpacking by myself,” Shaw-Rosenbaum said in a Zoom interview from her dorm. “People are on quarantine schedule, so there wasn’t anyone to talk to. So I moved myself in for a couple of hours, and cried.” She laughed slightly and continued. “Maybe my suite is specifically emotionally sensitive. We were all struggling emotionally. Some of them because they were missing their family, some because of the isolation. I think there were many tears shed.”

First-year orientation, endearingly known as “Camp Yale,” occurs the week before classes begin. First years move into their dorms a few days early for a flurry of activities designed to teach them all of the information necessary to start college, as well as to help them bond with other members of their class. This year, all Yalies living on campus were required to quarantine within their residential college for two weeks after moving in, so “Camp Yale,” and the first-year experience in general, has been drastically altered.

First years experienced two separate quarantines. Upon arriving on campus and taking an initial COVID test, students needed to remain in their rooms until they received a negative result, at which point the quarantine was extended to the confines of the residential college. This quarantine was supposed to happen solely in a student’s dorm room, according to Stiles First-Year Counselor (FroCo) Marty Chandler ‘21. The majority of first years interviewed for the article told the News, though, that that information wasn’t adequately communicated and, as a result, they immediately formed quarantine pods with their suitemates. 

While this initial quarantine was supposed to last a maximum of 36 hours, a backlog of tests resulted in much longer waits for some students. Hanaé Yoshida ‘24, for example, waited 50 hours before her first test results came back, during which she vlogged to pass the time. “[The second day] was also the day of the tornado, which was a lovely welcome to New Haven,” she laughed. “It’s 2020. Anything can happen.”

Most Yalies spent the initial quarantine the same way. If you happened to be in a single, standalone suite, the first day or so was spent unpacking (perhaps a testament to their boredom was the fact that every dorm room I could see in Zoom interviews was impeccably decorated). If you had suitemates, the time was spent getting to know them: Netflix, card games, the works. 

According to Marissa Blum ‘24, each suite had a refrigerator and microwave, some multiple, and Yale Dining gave each student a bag full of microwaveable meals, snacks, a pint of milk, a box of cereal, fresh fruit, and a gallon of water for the initial quarantine. Because Yale gave the same quantity of food to everyone regardless of how long their initial quarantine lasted,multiple students disclosed that they had large quantities of leftovers, which they either threw out or swapped for more desirable snacks. Yoshida described an underground trading scene in Morse College, where students traded food through the college’s GroupMe — especially popular were the tikka masala and Starbucks frappuccino. “We all received so many cartons of milk. I have so much of it, but some people really want it, so there’s also a complex trading process of milk cartons.”

If their test results come back negative, students can then leave their suite for the larger residential college courtyard, which is where students spend the majority of their day eating, socializing and, now that classes have started, working. For the most part, the courtyard seems to be a respite from the confined suite, allowing first years to get to know one another and eat together. However, some first years mentioned moments that highlighted just how odd it is to be starting college in the midst of a widespread public health crisis.

Vanika Mahesh ‘24, who is in Pierson, described how FroCos in her college were keeping a strict watch on the first years. “Our FroCos are overlooking the courtyard, so if you’re sitting and eating and not eight feet apart, you’ll hear voices from above telling you to do that.”

Blum, who is in Trumbull college, described a familiar sense of being monitored. “Yesterday, I saw Trumbull’s public health coordinator following people around and taking photos of the courtyard,” she said.

In an email to the News, Tyler Kellenberger, the PHC for Trumbull, emphatically denied taking pictures of students, adding that “I occasionally sit/walk in the main courtyard around lunch/dinner or in my free time (weather permitting) and FaceTime or Zoom Call my parents/long-distance friends on my phone. This could give the appearance of taking a photo, but this is not the case.”

After the suite quarantine, the food becomes prepackaged, grab ‘n go style from the dining hall, with either a vegan or non-vegan option. On a scale of NYU TikTok to Michelin-starred, almost everyone I talked to rated the food quite highly. Emily Zenner ’24 said in an email to the News that, regarding the food, “as a Texan who loves a good steak, I was impressed.” However, as Melissa Adams ’24 noted in a separate email, food wastage is still an issue.

“Lunch and dinner, our two hot meals, are served in fairly sizable portions in large plastic containers/bowls and I feel bad since I know many of us are probably ending up wasting more food since we can’t customize our meals to the same extent I assume students normally can,” Adams said.

Every first year interviewed, nine in total, was asked the same question: “Do you currently feel safe?” Students gave varying answers — for some, safety encompassed more than just their physical health.

“I don’t know if I’d say that I’d feel mental health-wise safe, because I’m not having a great time right now,” said Shaw-Rosenbaum, after mentioning that, coronavirus-wise, this is the safest she’s felt all summer.

Camden Rider ’23, who is not a first year but is currently quarantined on campus, echoed similar sentiments, adding that “Yale is doing a lot for safety protocols, but a lot of people are feeling a little lonely, and isolation is going to do that. Hearing the sounds of the street and the sounds of people in the areas around me and not being able to interact with them is a weird feeling.”

To the credit of the residential colleges, they’re taking measures to mitigate the loneliness. All colleges, for example, hold nightly FroCo meetings, some with the addition of virtual duty. First years in Silliman received a “Silliswag bag” with a plant, snacks, t-shirt and coloring materials. Some colleges ordered pizza for all students. Morse College had students participate in “Morse Madness,” a set of virtual challenges that included a suite Zoom photoshoot. Pierson College FroCos dropped off sparkling cider outside of everyone’s room after the virtual opening ceremony and taught everyone the Pierson chant through the windows. Saybrook sent out movie recommendations and held a socially distanced dodgeball tournament.

As for physical safety, the rules set out for social distancing and the college quarantine are being mostly followed: with notable exceptions. When I asked Mahesh how she felt about the safety level, she initially said that “social distancing is there,” and then paused to revise. “It’s there-ish. Most people are chill about it. Davenport people have been coming to the Pierson buttery, for example, because they can.”  She continued, “So far I’ve seen people respecting people asking for masks and space, but it’s only been a week, and I’ve already heard people complain about certain people and say ‘he’s so pressed about social distancing.’ Once the 14-day bubble is lifted, something’s going to happen. From people’s attitudes, I already know.”

Blum said she felt safe at the time of her interview but was similarly unsure about what would happen after the quarantine period ended. Even now, she claimed that not everyone is following the social distancing guidelines. “There are people who have been having small parties, less than 10 people, happening within their residential college.” She described a Snapchat story of first years drinking and playing beer pong.

Even so, Blum noted that the large majority of people are following the rules and making the most of their substantially modified first-year experience.

An anonymous sophomore living on Old Campus also noted a similar flouting of social distancing rules. He told the News that he reported on Wednesday night a party occurring on Old Campus to a Public Health Coordinator, who, he claims, promptly shut it down.

It isn’t “Camp Yale,” students acknowledged, but, as Zenner wrote in an email, “I can’t really compare to Camp Yale, since I’ve never been there to witness it myself. But for the circumstances, I’ve been happy with how little I’ve been bored.” 

Hanaé had a similar perspective. “Of course it’s not what I would’ve ever imagined, but never did I imagine that I would ever be able to come to Yale,” she said. “That gratitude is getting me through those challenges, how starstruck I am to be here.”

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu

Correction, Sept. 5: A previous version of this article misspelled Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum’s last name.