An APR News Feature
There are certain things you expect from college life at the University of Alabama. The list includes worrying about midterms, finding your way to class, and of course Crimson Tide football. This year is different. The pandemic has forced many classes online. Coronavirus cases spiked early in the semester, and there’s ongoing concern over how to quarantine COVID positive students.
“If you were negative, they’ll call you up and ask what’s your name blah, blah, blah and they’ll tell you to leave," Keyanna said.
She’s a sophomore majoring in creative media. She and all the students we interviewed for this story asked that we only use their first names.
“If you were positive, they’ll call you up and they’ll take you to a room," Keyanna said. "Then they called my name and they walked me to the room and I was like ‘good grief!’ So I just like started crying.”
Keyanna went into quarantine in late August. Close to 500 UA students tested positive that week.
“When I was tested and figured out I was positive, I was like crying and the poor nurse was like ‘I’m so sorry you’re going through this," said Nelle, a freshman studying English.
Much of the city of Tuscaloosa was closed under a moratorium ordered by the mayor when she started quarantine.
"'It’s gonna be ok, there are gonna be people with you,'" Nelle recalled the nurse saying to her. "And my mask was soaked with tears.”
“It was definitely upsetting to have done everything right--taken all the precautions--and yet still ended up getting COVID,” said Nathaniel, a sophomore majoring in physics.
He got his test results a week after Keyanna. Nine hundred students had tested positive since.
That meant trading free reign of the University of Alabama’s campus for quarantine in Mary Burke Hall later that day.
“And walking into Burke I was like, ‘Ahhh. Here’s my home for the next 10 days,'" Nathaniel said. "Kind of very annoyed that I had to be there and that I was gonna have to be there and take all these extra precautions and stay away from people and not see my friends for ten days."
Some students were more optimistic. Keyanna for one.
“Highlands actually felt kind of like a second home," she said. "When I moved in, some of the girls next door heard me moving in and they came out and was like, 'Oh my gosh you’re new to corona village!' They were like, 'If you need anything, just let me know.'"
For freshmen like Nelle, quarantine dorms were their first glimpse of campus life without social distancing.
"It was super nice," she said. "I remember the first night I got there I was sitting in the common area and I was like, this is the most real college feeling, college experience that I’ve had."
For some, normal college life is code for Alabama’s party culture.
“It was at least probably 25 to 30 guys partying in the common area on the guys floor," Nathaniel said. "Clearly people were able to sneak out or sneak in alcohol. I don’t know how they’d do it.”
But partying couldn’t compensate for the lack of basics when you’re sick. Keyanna said the list includes no physical and mental health resources.
“I didn’t get checked on ‘til my last day in quarantine," Keyanna said. "I got calls maybe the day before my last day about ‘oh, how are you feeling’ type things."
It was tough for Nelle as well.
"I didn’t feel great and I was dealing with homesickness and just couldn’t really concentrate. I definitely got behind, I’ve definitely felt behind since I got into quarantine," Nelle said.
Even so, Keyanna agrees that quarantine gave them new perspectives.
“It actually helped," she said. "I did not have the best beginnings for my roommate situation. That ten days away from them and away from that situation helped a lot clearing my mind. It gave me time to myself and to kind of reevaluate where I am.”
Nathaniel is viewing the pandemic differently now that his ten days of quarantine are up.
“It was definitely interesting to have experienced the disease in the pandemic," he said. "It was not fun, but I’m also a very healthy 19-year-old. It definitely made the pandemic seem a lot more serious to be a part of it.”
Students like Nelle are enjoying life outside again.
“I’m just so much more motivated and excited to get out, and the day I got out was the day the moratorium was starting to be lifted so that was just fun and exciting and I just happened to meet a bunch more people in the weeks after,” she said.
Keyanna, Nelle, and Nathaniel all came out of quarantine just as the city lifted its moratorium on bars of restaurants. So, with face masks and social distancing, they may be able to spend time out and about, and less time in Mary Burke Hall in the future.