Resident Assistant Jacinta Tran walks into the Kerr Hall cafeteria for lunch, swiping her ID to get in, just as she always has since COVID-19 took over daily life on the University of North Texas campus. But as she goes through the food line, she passes an empty salad bar that was discontinued for safety. She grabs a plastic fork and spoon, too, since cutlery is no longer allowed.
She sits down with friends — at a distance, of course. The brief moments eating with her friends in view almost manages to convince Tran that everything is normal.
After lunch, she walks back to her dorm room. Social distancing stickers are all over the floor. Staying in Kerr to dine was the easiest option for her. Whenever she leaves the dorm, she needs her supervisor’s approval to go and she is required to wear a mask.
While most UNT students returned home to their families after stay-at-home orders were issued, many stayed. Classes went online, but campus life for those who remained is different. Students have adjusted to a new lifestyle of social distancing and much less interaction.
“We’ve implemented a couple rules to accommodate for the distancing,” Tran said. “One rule we’ve implemented is having no guests in the dorm. It can be a little bit taxing; however, we want to ensure safety for our residents as the highest priority.”
The food court at the student union is shuttered. The campus mall is silent except for the sputtering fountain. The library is only available online.
Even with fewer students on campus, Tran had more work than usual as a resident assistant. Students living at Santa Fe and Traditions Halls were transferred to Kerr Hall. Not only does Tran have more new residents to look after, she also has more precautions to take in her own room.
“RAs have to do weekly room checks alongside the monthly room checks,” Tran said. “In addition, our weekly staff meetings take place on Zoom to limit social interactions.”
While it has been difficult for some peers, Tran has been able to handle the new rules for the most part. She calls herself an introvert, saying she enjoys her alone time more than most. She gets lonely in her room but can talk to her co-workers.
Being cautious is better than being careless with distancing, she says. And while she misses being in class, the online classes “have been very easy to access,” she adds.
Tran closes her laptop after finishing her assignments for the day. She wants to take a walk to clear her head.
She grabs her mask; she’ll need permission to go.