Fairfield University reopened at the start of September and quickly encountered its first true trial – Labor Day weekend. At Fairfield, this weekend is traditionally accompanied by parties throughout the day and night, drunken ‘ragers’ and crowded, sweaty beaches and townhouses. However, events like these have recently proven to be extremely dangerous due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 that has permeated campuses nationwide over the past month. Partying among students has forced universities to go into quarantine, or even fully close and go online for the semester due to an exponential spike in coronavirus cases. So far, Fairfield is a mixed bag – students can be seen wearing masks all over campus and social distancing outside of their dorms, but the weekends can prove to be a different story.
Over the long holiday weekend, a video initially posted by the Instagram profile “dearpwi” began to circulate throughout the student body featuring students at Penfield Point on a crowded balcony partying and drinking without masks on. The caption reads “pandemic parties at @fairfieldu” with the heart eyes emoji.
On the following Tuesday morning, in response to “many images of students off campus enjoying themselves seemingly without a care for directives about gatherings, social distancing, or face coverings,” Dean William Johnson sent out an email to the student body stating that he was “disappointed” with the students’ behavior this past weekend.
“Your behavior this past weekend has now cast doubts on whether or not you have the wherewithal to make this experience that so many have worked tirelessly to plan for you work,” Johnson said in his email.
However, Johnson acknowledged that not all students are culprits in this scenario.
“This letter has been sent to all students. By no means does this suggest that all students are in the wrong,” he said.
In fact, the majority of students have been following the new COVID guidelines set by Fairfield and are being as careful as they can to not contribute to the spread of the virus. There are stories all around campus of students staying as safe as they can and following guidelines without sacrificing their socialization. These are just some of the real stories of a COVID Labor Day weekend at Fairfield.
Thursday, 9:00 p.m., Townhouses.
Seven friends are enjoying a pasta dinner together to celebrate the return to campus and the end of the first week of classes. One junior shares the exciting news with her friends that she found a beach house for senior year. She shows them how close the house is to the Seagrape Cafe, the local bar, within a few hundred feet. The guys are impressed. “Next year we’ll have to pregame at your house and then head to the Grape,” her friend says. “Well, you know, if COVID is gone and everything,” he adds. The smiles on everyone’s face falters for a moment. While grateful that they can now have small gatherings in-person, as opposed to the Zoom calls of the past few months, it is difficult for college students to face the possible loss of the traditions and rites of passage they have long awaited.
Thursday, 9:45 p.m., Townhouses.
Eight girls surround a pretty, painted beer pong table. They are out on the back porch, listening to music, drinking casually and playing a friendly game. It looks exactly as one may expect “thirsty Thursday” to look like on a college campus, except for the fact that these young women all have face masks. Three have them strapped on their ears and covering just their chins, ready to be pulled up at the first glimpse of campus security. The other five wear them properly and pull them up or down every so often just to take a sip of their drink. Solo cups and cans being casually flaunted out in public is not so typical on the campus.
“DPS kept circling earlier, but they like don’t care,” one blonde haired girl says to her friend after taking another sip from her cup. “I think they know that we are sticking with our own groups.”
The more relaxed response when it comes to on campus drinking seems to be an unspoken compromise made with students who are doing their part in keeping campus safe from a COVID-19 outbreak.
Thursday, 11:37 p.m., Meditz Hall.
The corridor is silent until you reach an apartment on the first floor of Meditz. Shouts of reveling juniors can be heard over the throbbing, pulsating bass coming from a speaker just beyond the wall. One boy knocks loudly on the wall, pounding enough for his neighbors to hear in the room nextdoor. His friends cheer him on and the knocking continues, leading to whoops and laughter that pass directly through the wall to the neighboring apartments. Cheers of “bro” and “whoa dude” can be heard far beyond their front door. Just then, there’s a knock on the door, a cacophony of cans thrown in a black trash bag, and shouts of “Shhh! Be quiet!” A second knock is accompanied with a loud cry of “RA, open up.” A girl slowly comes out of the room, asking what’s wrong. According to the RA, the room was over capacity and some people were going to have to leave, not to mention that they were being too loud. The girl apologized and kicked a few of the guys out, nervously retreating back to the safety of her dorm.
Friday, 8:18 p.m., Traffic Circle.
A group of girls stands on the curb, giggling and squealing, waiting for their Uber to arrive. Some are wearing blue disposable masks on their faces, some hanging limply on their chins; others are completely unmasked. They all wear matching outfits- brightly colored cropped tank tops, black skinny jeans, and white sneakers galore. They stare at one girl’s phone and scream in unison. “Dude, no way,” one says, grabbing the phone and bringing it closer. Their Uber is finally here and one girl quietly sighs, “finally,” as they make their way into the cramped back seat of the car, ready to go explore the party scene at the beach.
Friday, 8:40 p.m., Reef Road
Walking down the street, nothing but silence fills the night air. There’s not even the faint sound of a bass pumping out of a speaker, no occasional bellowing of a guy as he beats his buddy in pong or shotguns his drink like a champ. It’s dark and quiet, not the typical college beach community crawling with party-seekers. Then a light breaks through the night, and from the street the neon red of solo cups seem to glow from atop a pong table. There are roughly six people in the yard of a house playing beer pong and listening to music that can only be heard from within a few feet.
“I don’t think those are Fairfield people” Danielle says. The gathering seems much too calm. But, as we pass by the house we see a stag-shaped decoration lit up in the window and know immediately that these are fellow students. They agree that they aren’t the picture of the typical scene at a Fairfield beach house. “The vibe’s kind of down,” Hannah Futo, a graduate student, shares. “This year it’s all small groups of people that know each other,” her senior friend Kyle adds. While none of these students wear masks around each other, as they know that they all tested negative for COVID before returning to school, they make sure to take the necessary precautions outside of their small, close-knit group. “It is something that you have to think about, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s a new norm that we are all going to have to get used to,” Hannah admits.
Friday, 8:51 p.m., Reef Road
The smell of the beach starts to fill the nighttime air. The faint bumping of a bass breaks through the chirping of crickets, and it’s finally starting to feel like the college community that normally fills the beach on a Friday night. Male voices are heard laughing and shouting, and they suddenly appear, standing up on a second floor porch. Suddenly the owner of the voice retreats back into the house, and the music as well of the voices disappear with him. The street returns to the near eerie quiet that not a soul would expect from a weekend night during syllabus week in a college town.
Friday, 8:59 p.m., Seagrape Cafe
Emily and her friend wait anxiously on the line outside of the Seagrape Cafe on Reef Road. They shift from one foot to the other. The two girls have their facemasks pulled up, only removing them to take a swig of their drink. Emily’s parents haven’t sent her the same “be careful tonight!” texts that they had in the past- they know that after quarantine she would do the right thing to stay safe. “We have one year left of college so we’re gonna live it the best we can and be as safe as we can,” she says. “We’ll wear our masks and be protected, but we’re not just gonna sit in our houses all semester.” Compared to its normal crowd, the Grape looks empty. Nobody is on the dance floor with drinks in hand, and the only people allowed inside are the servers. College kids sit in the outdoor seating area, covered by bright blue umbrellas and string cafe lights. The music is just as loud, but the mood seems almost solemn. Just six months ago, the Grape was completely packed with college kids from Sacred Heart and Fairfield, all drinking, vaping and making out at the bar. Now, COVID-19 has reduced it to what its namesake describes- an ordinary cafe.
Friday, 9:04 p.m., Reef Road
Six girls cross our path on the sidewalk, all in matching colored tanks, black jeans and white sneakers. None of them wear masks, but one finds hers and puts it on as we approach. They all have drinks in hand, some White Claws and others in open containers. They don’t appear too worried about the virus, but are still cautious when we come a bit closer. “Everyone has been following the regulations, especially at the beach,” says Delaney, a senior at Fairfield. “We’ve been trying our best, and that’s all that matters.” The group is heading to a friend’s beach house just down the street, only planning to socialize with 10-12 people, most of whom are close friends or roommates. “There really have been no problems,” adds her friend Maria. Jennings Beach, usually a popular spot for congested day parties, is completely empty. The typical booming bass is completely gone, replaced by the sound of crickets. The streets are dark, and although a few houses have flashing party lights, the parties within all seem to be confined to a few people. “Nothing has been happening,” says a Fairfield police officer standing in the road by the Grape. The beach is emptier than it has been in years. “The University did a really good job talking to the students,” says the officer.
Friday, 9:12 p.m., Reef Road
We finish at the Seagrape and begin walking back down Reef Road. Up on the second story porch of a house sit two boys with bright polo shirts and windblown hair, casually sipping on some beers. We slow down to see if we can interview them, but before we have a chance to even consider asking questions, one of the boys turns to us and yells. “Come have a drink,” he shouts across the street, receiving some chuckles from his friend. We put our heads down and walk straight ahead. “You know what?,” we say to one another as we awkwardly speed walk down the road, not knowing how to respond. “At least we were just pursued from the porch.” We laugh as we continue down the street; during these times you have to be happy when you see people doing their part to keep themselves and those around them safe, especially college students.
Saturday, 8:20 p.m., Townhouses
Nine friends sit in a townhouse living room catching up with one another and watching the Celtics play. One brunette girl is wearing a daisy patterned mask. Suddenly the door opens and three more girls enter the house, all masked. They head towards the bathroom. Nervous glances are exchanged throughout the room. “We have way too many people in here now,” one of the guys who lives there says. The daisy mask girl looks at her friends and stands up. “We’ll leave,” one of her other friends says as the three girls who had been there for about a half an hour stand up. “No, you don’t have to,” a male voice says and another voice chimes in, awkwardly but firmly stating, “Well there are too many people here.” “Yeah, there are a lot of people in this house,” another housemate says. The three girls reconfirm their willingness to leave, thank their friends for their hospitality, and mask up as they head out the back door.
The brunette girl did not want any of her friends to be insulted or think that she left because she didn’t want to be there with them, but there were too many factors causing her to be a bit uncomfortable in staying. She felt a bit strange wearing a mask in the house, as no one feels natural being guarded amongst and against their friends. While she did not want the girls to be insulted that she left upon their arrival, she also did not want to put herself at risk or her friends in a position where they could get in trouble for having too many people at their house. It’s clear through the awkward and quick exchanges when the house got crowded that students lament having to make some people leave or ask others not to come visit, but it is understood that everyone is simply doing their best to have as much fun as possible, while still keeping everyone safe.
Sunday, 12:25 p.m., Campus Center
From across the Quad you can hear the soft tones of Kendrick Lamar waft from the Barone Campus Center. Five groups of boys stand on the grass playing Spikeball, fully masked, and a group of stragglers plays corn hole by the sidewalk. The first group high-fived and hugged, leaving their game so new people could take their spot. It’s rare to see such wholesome activities on a beautiful weekend morning like this instead of a rager on the beach or by the townhouses.
Many Fairfield students have been following the University’s COVID guidelines, albeit not perfectly. It seems that students are simply trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in this unprecedented time, and keeping up with a regular social life is one of the few ways to realistically do so. While there are certainly outliers and rule-breakers, like the maskless partygoers at Penfield Point, Fairfield students are trying their best to keep their sanity in this seemingly senseless time.
*Modified from an article written for USA Today by Danielle Sondgeroth and Colleen Vann