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Dorm room dispatches

Students reflect on a week of on-campus isolation

<p>Staff reporter Anisha Reddy's West Campus dorm room during the weeklong stay-at-home order.</p>

Staff reporter Anisha Reddy's West Campus dorm room during the weeklong stay-at-home order.

After a spike in COVID-19 cases that administrators attributed to in-person fraternity rush events, Duke issued a weeklong “stay-in-place” order that included a move to online classes, restrictions on when on-campus students could leave their residences and a ban on off-campus students coming to campus except for essential activities. The order ended Sunday at 9 a.m. Here are some moments from a week in lockdown. 

Monday, 2:00 p.m. 

Economics problem set. Chinese essay. Outline for research project. I’ve been staring at my planner for ten minutes, but I struggle to start even one task. I feel like a trapped Westview resident from Wanda’s Hex in “WandaVision.” I need to act normally, because work still has to be done, but I also feel an invisible force chipping away at my sanity and disrupting my productivity.

I need comfort, a sense of familiarity. Instinctively, I reach for my phone and text my brother, a junior on West Campus: “Wanna take a walk sometime this week, we’re allowed gatherings up to three and I hate solitary confinement.” Three minutes later, a reply: “Yes PLEASE/ I’m going crazy/ U free today honestly.” Good to know we’re both feeling the same way.

We meet on West. The gray sky and light drizzle match our dreary mood as we dodge sidewalk puddles and contemplate how we’ll cope with the week. But after a few minutes, we find ourselves teasing each other as if it were any normal day, momentarily forgetting about the week ahead. We’re about to go our separate ways when a ray of sunlight slices through the clouds and bathes the Crowell clocktower’s stone walls.

Riding the bus back to East, I notice three first-years surrounded by brown paper bags and a stack of pizza boxes–food from West Union to last them a coupleof  days. “Sprout, Tandoor, Il Forno,” one of the first-year students, Gargi Mahadeshwar, tells me. “We don’t have card access. We had to wait to be let in.” I should do that, I think to myself. But after a few moments, I dismiss the idea. I think I’ll be fine sticking to Marketplace just for this week.

-Katie Tan


Staff reporter Katie Tan's room during the weeklong stay-in-place order.

Wednesday, 9 a.m.

“Morning guys,” my friend Nathan Nouri, a sophomore, sends a text in our friends’ group chat. “How is everyone?” 

We’re tired, bored and missing each other. Wednesday feels a lot like Tuesday, which felt a lot like Monday. As I walk through my dorm hallway to go brush my teeth, I can just barely hear my blockmates behind their doors, each of them cloistered in their dorm rooms. Luis, cycling on his stationary bike and listening to music. Parker, climbing out of bed. Alex, chuckling at a YouTube video. 

When I return to my room, Nouri has shared a photo in our group chat: a piece of paper, on which he’s listed each day of the lockdown. He’s crossed out Days 1-3. He sends another text: “Today is halfway.”

- Chris Kuo


Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. 

A peek through the blinds confirms my suspicions: the sky is overcast and gloomy, just like it has been all week. It almost feels like the weather is part of a cruel joke, with the lack of social interaction, the isolation in our rooms, and the perpetually grey skies conspiring to keep spirits low. I look out my window to Keohane Quad to see students milling around alone or in pairs. They seem adrift to me, like prisoners in a yard, outside only to escape the boredom of their rooms. 

Time passes weirdly under lockdown. Alone with the fluorescent lighting and stale air of my dorm, I’ve completed the same cycle: wake up, attend online class, eat by myself, do homework, go to bed. I never know what day or even what time it is without checking my phone because everything is blending together into one long lockdown. And it’s only Wednesday. 

I get a text in a group chat: “Does anyone want to go on a walk before it gets too dark?” I scramble to “like” the message, desperate for something to do. A few minutes later, three friends and I separate into two pairs and set off on our long, meandering stroll around West Campus.  

As we walk, first-year Lindsey Weyant remarks, “I really needed to get out of my room. Sitting in one place all day has been terrible for my mental health.” 

I agree, and the simple act of commiserating with someone immediately lifts the weight off my chest. I realize that those kids I had looked down at earlier had the right idea, that the key to getting through this week is the same as the key to getting through this school year. We have to deliberately make time to get out and do something every day, and we have to make time to check on each other.  

By the end of our stroll, my restlessness has quieted. I stop to marvel at the cherry blossoms in full bloom. They remind me that the beautiful North Carolina spring is almost here, so long as we get through the next few days. I take one last deep breath, gulping a lungful of the crisp evening air, and head inside. 

-Anisha Reddy


Cherry trees on campus bloomed during the stay-in-place order.

Friday, 3 p.m. 

Yesterday’s update on the shelter-in-place from Duke admin was slightly encouraging. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll all be freed by Sunday morning.

I check back in with Mahadeshwar. For her, the week’s been a blur of online classes and doing work alone in her room, dotted with brighter moments of walking outside and FaceTiming friends. She misses being able to study in her usual spot: one of Bell Tower’s classrooms on the first floor.

“Having to do everything in my room and having to study alone instead of with other people was hard,” she said.

Mahadeshwar actually did end up in Bell’s first floor this week—to shelter during Thursday’s tornado warning. Around 6:40 P.M., a loud siren blared across East Campus and phones flashed with a message from DukeALERT: “Tornado Warning Main Campus-Durham. Seek safe location! Avoid windows/doors.” 

Mahadeshwar and three other girls hustled to the first floor and sat six feet apart in the hallway. 

“I don’t think anyone was freaking out about it, because the weather looked fine outside,” she said.

The tornado warning was just another bizarre event in a surreal week. I imagine ourselves 10 years later, gathered at Duke alumni reunions, shaking our heads and wondering how our college experience could have ever ended up like this.

-Katie Tan

Saturday, 4 p.m.

The middle of March—with warm weather, March Madness, and the return from spring break—normally brings Duke students together. Not this year.  

This week, we’ve felt alone.     

“The realization of lockdown didn’t really hit me until I actually went outside on Sunday and everything was just deserted,” sophomore Malenie Reyes said.

Sophomore Chloe Derocher didn’t feel the mental effects of the shelter-in-place until she finished most of her work for the week. When she realized she couldn’t end the week by seeing her friends, she started feeling down. “Ever since Friday, I’ve been feeling kind of sad and lonely, especially when I remembered I couldn’t get dinner with all of my friends or hang out with them that night,” Derocher said. 

We’ve learned to appreciate all those moments from life before sheltering-in-place. Sophomore Jihyeon Je felt she used to take the “little things” for granted, like playing board games with friends. She misses Wilson Recreation Center and being able to say hello to friends on the Bryan Center Plaza or when grabbing food.

But even in isolation, we’ve had small moments of joy. Derocher and her suitemate baked chocolate banana bread. Reyes walked on nature trails around campus to find peace. Je went on runs when she felt overwhelmed. I finally picked up the mass of clothes from the floor of my dorm.

Even fire alarms found a new meaning this week. When one went off in Hollows B on Thursday, some students were grateful instead of grumpy 

“It was nice just to finally have some human contact,” Derocher said. 

We’ve also seen our community come together, even when apart. 

It was nice to see “people's commitment to bettering the community” this week, Reyes said. “It restored my faith in Duke in a time where community is hard to come by.” 

-Leah Boyd 

Chris Kuo profile
Chris Kuo

Chris Kuo is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously enterprise editor for Volume 117.

Leah Boyd profile
Leah Boyd

Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.

Anisha Reddy | Senior Editor

Anisha Reddy is a Trinity junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Katie Tan profile
Katie Tan | Digital Strategy Director

Katie Tan is a Trinity junior and digital strategy director of The Chronicle's 119th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 118. 


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