Grabbing lunch with a friend while traveling between classes, exchanging genial banter during walks across campus and socializing in the gym after a long day of classes, these everyday occurrences have helped define life at Fairfield University for Eli Garcia ‘21.
His effervescent, extroverted nature thrives in these settings. However, the modern age of masks and social-distancing guidelines has created a very different experience for him.
“I’ve only been on campus so much,” remarked Garcia, who remains confined in his Barnyard Manor Townhouse more often than not, “but it’s definitely a lot emptier. I guess before, you could say it was friendlier, because there were kids talking and smiling, but now, you still can have that, but you don’t see kids smiling anymore. The mask is all you really see. Now, it’s just, like . . . dead.”
On this lifeless campus, Eli starts most of his days by rolling out of bed and popping open his laptop.
“Since classes are online, you wake up and you just go to class, it’s not like you have to prepare for the day. Sometimes I take a shower, sometimes I don’t. It’s not like I’m going to see anyone,” the Barnyard resident confessed.
“I usually go to the dining room table downstairs, but the problem with that is, I have seven other kids in the house,” he commented, as his eyes glanced up away from our Zoom call towards whatever distraction his roommates were causing at that moment.
“You got kids cooking breakfast, taking the pans out. That’s noise, distractions,” he said, exasperated. “I already have a short attention span, so, you know, there’s just so many things going on, I try to pay attention.” He looked away at another roommate who obviously was trying to get his attention. “It’s easy to lose focus,” he added.
His second class of the day presents the same kind of dilemma. Normally, Garcia would walk into class, say hi to one of his friends, and make plans to run by The Stag afterwards. Now, as he sits in his townhouse, his thoughts drift further away from the Zoom class in front of him and focus instead on whether to order from UberEats or DoorDash. Not having his classmates around him decreases his motivation to remain locked-in.
Garcia finds ways to pass the time. Playing his Xbox is a common fallback for him and his roommates. The resumption of live sports has helped provide structure and entertainment. “If there were no sports . . . that’d be tough,” said Garcia, talking about how he and his roommates planned on watching the Thursday night football game.
Sharing a home classroom with seven roommates certainly has its irritants, but Garcia tries to make the most out of the situation. One way he and his roommates try to enjoy themselves is by playing corn-hole. However, even though this spread-out activity takes place in their backyard, the realities of COVID-19 do not make any exception.
“We didn’t have masks on, it was just our roommates, and it was right outside our house, but someone called DPS, and they told us to wear our masks,” Garcia said. “Going outside, you always have to wear a mask, even standing outside your house. Don’t have a mask, and you get in trouble.”
Garcia is not always trapped inside the house. He spends some of his days working 11 or 12 hour nursing clinicals. These normally lengthy shifts have intensified even more since the pandemic struck.
Garcia also makes frequent trips to Edge Fitness, an off-campus gym where he and his roommates hold memberships. He discusses the importance of these routine gym visits with great conviction, stressing their value on his mental health.
“You can only be in the house so long, at some point you just gotta get out, or else, you go crazy,” he remarked. “It definitely takes a toll. Sometimes you just don’t want to do anything,” he continued. “It’s . . . it’s a lot.”
The vivacious Fairfield, swarming with chattering crowds and peppy passerbys, has lost some of its aura. Garcia recalls times when academic buildings would explode with students at the times when standard classes start and end. He remembers a time when the quad would hold hoards of students enjoying the fresh air and each others’ company, when most of his classmates had a reason to come to campus, or at least did not have to find a convincing one to do so.
The accommodations that he feels best encapture campus life at the moment, are the changes outside the DiMenna-Nyselius Library. This building, typically chock-full of students still gazes out onto a picturesque front lawn, one of the most incredible landscapes on a campus known for its dazzling appearance. However, where crowds used to mingle and students used to bask in the grass, there merely reside sequestered pieces of furniture.
“You see kids there,” said Garcia, referring to the tables and adirondack chairs spread out across the library’s front lawn, “but it’s definitely quieter.”
The quietness of campus, one of the themes of our conversation, was backdropped by an eight person townhouse serving as one shared classroom for the semester.