A letter from campus to Principians by sophomore Haley Hill

You won’t believe how much the campus has changed since you left. 

You’d be so happy to hear that spring has sprung here and the campus is looking beautiful as ever. The trees near Howard and Lowery are alive with purple blossoms, and the grass is a vivid green. And while humans have deserted campus, that hasn’t stopped the wildlife – migrating birds have landed and filled the air with all sorts of new bird calls. 

There are about 55 students left on campus – but even that number is thinning out, because some are leaving for home and two were asked to leave a couple of weeks ago for not following the Illinois stay-at-home order. 

The state order requires people to go out only for essential business, like grocery shopping or socially distanced exercise; but there are Principia rules, as well, to ensure that we are all keeping our distance during this time. Everyone living on campus is in a single. You aren’t allowed to go into dorms other than your own, and you aren’t allowed to be in other people’s rooms.

During my daily walk on campus these are things I’ve experienced:

Buildings are locked. The parking lots are empty except for a few cars that have been left by students, or owned by essential staff that come to campus every day. 

I am able to walk through the Science Center because I work in the aviary and I have keys.  The halls are dark and eerie. Sometimes I run into people, but that isn’t often. When I do, they are rushing to get work done. Student workers for the biology department are considered essential, but most have left campus. The responsibilities have fallen upon the few biology professors that are able to come to campus and one or two students that can help with the living collections. 

The other day, I walked down the hall to the science lab where my Mass Comm 210 class was held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and it was weird to see such a familiar place locked and dark. I walked alone down stairs that would normally be crowded with students to get to my math classroom. That, too, was locked.   

Even the Concourse was empty, though the C-store was open (which only happens for 2 hours, 5 days a week). I don’t normally see people in the Concourse unless it’s a meal time.  I walked through the Concourse doors that go toward the crossroads of the houses on the west quad. I didn’t see a soul.  

I walked past the backside of Clara, and heard the chapel bells ringing and wondered: Does someone rings them every hour or are they automated?

Then I saw a man scurry out of what looked like the back of the chapel, but maybe he had just come from Clara. Seeing someone at a distance who seemed familiar and who I hadn’t seen in a long time spurred my automatic reflex to run toward him to say hi, even though I was still trying to be mindful of social distancing.  As I got closer, I recognized the chemistry professor, Jeff Cornelius, but he was gone and away in his car before I got to him … and I kept waving.

I was happy to see a familiar face, even though he didn’t see me and I wasn’t able to say hello. 

I walked back through the concourse to grab dinner. 

The Scramble Room is looking very different these days. Besides lacking people, the space has been reduced too. When you walk up the stairs to the Scramble Room there are blue x’s on the floor with tape showing how far you should be away from people. The salad bar is empty and you have to walk up to the far side of the buffet to ask a worker to put your salad together. I find this awkward so I don’t usually ask for a salad anymore.

X’s mark the social distance diners must keep in the Scramble Room new normal. Video by Haley Hill.

At meal times, if you’re lucky, you might find a handful of people in the Concourse, sitting at the info booth or at the tables next to the West Quad entrance. It’s usually only a couple of people and they respect the social distancing rules and sit 6 feet apart. 

The new normal in the Concourse. Photo by Haley Hill.

It’s the new norm, and it doesn’t feel that weird anymore. 

The sounds of construction at the School of Government do echo around campus and John Williams says they’re even ahead of schedule for completion.  

And I’ve seen contractors walking through the halls of Joe assessing the doors so that they can install locks on all the houses this summer. If you walk down to the track around 4 p.m. you find people working out, since all of the gyms have closed. People have gotten creative and found fun workouts you can do without weights.

I have found a community here with the people left, but Principia really isn’t Principia without all the people! One day, we will all be back and reflect on this and be truly grateful for the time we do get to spend together. 

But for now, I’ll see you on a Zoom call!

Featured photo at top by Haley Hill.

Image courtesy of Sophie Hills