Over a month after college closings, students who remain describe life on desolate campuses

A green lawn with a walking path in front of a white building
5C campuses are nearly empty following last month’s orders to suspend in-person classes and most on-site activity. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

When directives to clear the campuses, cancel events and suspend most on-site activity were issued in March, many 5C students scattered for home or alternate residences. But departing students left behind a vastly different landscape for the handful of their classmates that remained at the colleges. 

I think initially when this was happening, when everybody was in their own dorms, a lot of the people across the five campuses were like oh, we’ll still be in touch,” Shanawar Zahoor PZ ’21 said. “But now that you’re in your own emergency housing, there’s very little interaction, at least that I have, with people of the other 5Cs.”

When Pitzer College students moved out or relocated, Zahoor moved from an eight-person suite in Mead Hall to a two-bedroom apartment in the Claremont Collegiate Apartments at Claremont Graduate University.  

“I like the fact that I’m not in a dorm, a college dorm,” Zahoor said. “Since these are apartment complexes, it feels more adult-like, and I feel like if I was in a dorm I would have just been comparing it to times when the dorm was just full of activity and the campus was full of life, and I just would’ve been kind of bummed.” 

There are currently around 50 students still living on Pitzer’s campus and in the Claremont Collegiate Apartments, according to Pitzer spokesperson Anna Chang. Although McConnell Dining Hall is not open, students receive a daily meal delivery and a weekly snack supply. 

“Most of the time, the food is kinda a miss — especially breakfast, breakfast just sucks,” Zahoor said. 

Scripps College and Claremont McKenna College are also delivering meals to their students to replace typical dining hall food service. At Scripps, only 16 students remain on campus, and all are being housed in Kimberly Hall. The school is leaving meals on a table outside the hall for students to pick up, Forest Balemian-Spencer SC ’20 said.

“I’m not really sure what the meals are supposed to be, they give us a breakfast plate every day and what I guess would be either lunch or dinner, and they also give us a salad every day, and some fruit,”  Balemian-Spencer said. “Then on Mondays, they give us this huge garbage bag of dry goods, snacks and also cans of soups and cereals and things.” 

The remaining 54 students at CMC were consolidated to the school’s senior apartments. According to CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby, each of the apartments has a full kitchen, so some students are choosing to supplement meal deliveries with grocery shopping. 

Harvey Mudd College and Pomona College continue to provide food services from their dining halls, with students picking up prepackaged meals and taking them to go. 

The 53 students remaining at Mudd pick up meals from Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons once daily. They’ve been asked to wear masks or some form of face covering, as have dining hall staff members, to comply with public health recommendations.  

“You get two boxes and you eat lunch, and then later for dinner you’re expected to microwave or heat it up, and that’s for dinner,” Cat Ngo HM ’20 said. “They take [social distancing] pretty seriously. So you swipe your card, you wash your hands and people spread out among the line, six feet apart.”

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In addition to “grab and go” meals at Frank Dining Hall, Pomona is providing snacks Sunday through Thursday evenings in Oldenborg’s lobby, spokesperson Patricia Vest said.

All 81 remaining Pomona students are being housed in Oldenborg, which Vest said “allows every student to have a single room, which supports essential public health distance requirements. Oldenborg also offers an appropriate ratio of students per bathroom, a location closer to the mailroom and Residence Life Office.” 

Each of the five colleges has dramatically limited their on-site employees, with mailrooms, dining and maintenance and grounds some of the only departments maintaining regular, but limited, campus presences. 

With most students gone and so many college personnel working remotely, the campuses are uncharacteristically empty. But locals looking for recreational space have begun to flock to the schools, students say, even though the campuses have officially been closed to the public for several weeks.

“Actually I hardly see any students. It’s now like a glorified park, where people push strollers, walking around,” Ngo said of Mudd’s campus. “I think it’s less now, because people are more serious about it, but definitely [three or four weeks] ago, there were a lot of families walking around.” 

CMC’s campus is also attracting visitors.

“CMS shut down their fields and tracks so we can’t exercise unless we run around campus,” Annette Wong CM ’20 said via email. “But when we run around campus, non-5C people are always around on walks, walking their dogs, jogging, bringing their kids and essentially using the 5Cs as a huge public park. This is annoying because it puts 5Cers who are still on campus in danger.”

The colleges have put up signs about the closure around campus entrances, and Campus Safety has been informing members of the public spotted on campus that the campuses are closed, The Claremont Colleges Services spokesperson Laura Muna-Landa told TSL. 

The campuses were closed “in an effort to do our part to ‘Stop the Spread’ and ‘Flatten the Curve’ and in accordance with the ‘Safer at Home’ orders by the State of California and Los Angeles County,” she added.

Even when members of the public do appear on campus, students say they do not have much interaction with others.

“Everyone seems pretty isolated,” Balemian-Spencer said. “I’ll go out sometimes and sit on the lawn, and I think only once have I seen another person outside. So I don’t really see many people outside, but I also don’t go outside as much myself.” 

Zahoor echoed this sentiment.

“I don’t know if that would be different if I was on campus at the 5Cs, but right now there’s very few interactions with people, with my friends who live at Pomona or Scripps,” he said. “But I mean, I’m grateful that I have some friends nearby, I think that makes a big difference.”

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This article was last updated April 25, 2020 at 11:25 a.m.

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