Common Spaces Closed Due to COVID-19

By Molly Matthews ’22, Sarah Lorenz ’21

Staff Writers

March 3, 2021

As of Feb. 22, the upper floors of Warren Hunting Smith Library and the Bristol Field House have reopened for HWS community use after closing on Feb. 5 for the campus pause. Many students were upset about these closings, as they further limited the services and spaces available to students during the pandemic.

Students were mainly concerned with having access to a study space conducive to productivity. A junior William Smith student, who wished to remain anonymous  and regularly uses the Warren Hunting Smith Library revealed that doing work in her room is much harder than one might expect. “My house is difficult to get homework done in,” she said. “By closing the library, [the administration] got rid of one of the only places that I can be productive and get work done.”

This student elaborated, “When the only space you are allowed to be in is your room and you are supposed to do homework and sleep there, it is not an environment conducive for finding motivation and productivity.”

A sophomore Hobart student, who also wished to remain anonymous, expressed similar concerns. He believes that having to do assignments in a dorm room leads to more stress. “Since [the library has] been closed, a lot of people have been doing their work on the first floor [of the library] and a lot of them have been doing their work in their room. I think that a lot of people are stressed out right now.  I think that stems from having to do their work in their room.”

As these two students’ experiences demonstrate, they have struggled in the past few weeks to separate their workspace from their living space. Other students are likely struggling with the same thing as well.

In addition, the closure of the library and the field house also limited social interaction for students who frequent these spaces. For students living in single rooms, the library or field house may be the only indoor spaces aside from the Scandling Center in which they can interact with others on campus while following COVID-19 guidelines.

A William Smith student stated that her social interactions during the campus pause were even more limited than they were before. “Especially this semester because we are supposed to be limiting our social interactions, both the gym and the library gave me opportunities to see people in passing that I would not normally see.” As a student who lives alone, this student already had a small circle of people she interacts with, which was further limited by the campus pause.

Robb Flowers, Vice President of Campus Life, and Cathy Williams, Vice President for Marketing and Communications, explained that their decision to close the library and field house was motivated by the number of cases on campus earlier in the month. However, neither the library nor the field house has been identified as a site of significant spread for COVID-19.

Flowers emphasized that there was no correlation between the rising number of infections and these two locations. “The choice was about staffing and just having capacity,” he explained. “When we were at a point where we had close to 200 people in quarantine or isolation, I’m out of people. It becomes [a question of] ‘What is our capacity at this point?’ and that’s why those decisions were made,” he said.

Part of the strain on staffing stemmed from students’ failure to follow COVID-19 guidelines in these spaces. Williams pointed out that the administration had received many anonymous tips describing students not wearing their masks or violating other regulations, creating a need for more staffing to enforce proper protocol.

The closures, according to Williams, were a preemptive measure to free up staff, since these two locations were responsible for a considerable portion of the total reports filed on campus. “With those additional complaints about people not following social distancing, we were concerned they could become places of spread, especially if the cases are going up on campus,” she said.

Neither student interviewed for this story had reported seeing any violations that would prevent them from using the library or the field house. However, the William Smith student did notice small infractions at the gym: “I would see people go in to other squares at the gym, but everyone would have their masks on.” Although students might not view this as a significant problem, this behavior can still be reported. To the contrary, the administration reports that the upper floors of the library and the field house were consistent hot spots for COVID-19 violation report and were preemptively closed to free up staff responding to the outbreak. Flowers and Williams recognize that the decision to temporarily close the library and the gym was a difficult one. While the action was aimed at preventing further spread of COVID-19, many students struggled with the closure, lacking options for workspaces and safe social interaction. Both Flowers and Williams assert that they and their teams are prioritizing students’ interests and safety in their ongoing responses to the pandemic.


 

Featured image by Ani Freedman.

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