While COVID-19 has changed virtually everything about moving into college campuses across the country this year, one small thing remains the same: the fire alarm is bound to go off.
This is exactly what happened to first-year Kylie Whitehead within her first three hours on Miami’s campus. As she hung up clothes in her closet, unpacked her collection of coffee mugs and swapped travel stories with her roommate, they were interrupted by the tell-tale shrieking of a residence hall fire alarm.
A few seconds later came the announcement over the intercom.
“MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE … THERE HAS BEEN A FIRE EMERGENCY REPORTED IN THE BUILDING. PLEASE EVACUATE THE BUILDING BY THE NEAREST EXIT.”
This was just one part of a move-in experience unlike any other for Kylie. From Northbrook, Illinois, outside of Chicago, she and her family drove to Oxford Thursday and spent the night in a hotel, not wanting to make the five-hour drive and a move all in one day.
Kylie and her family explored the campus and even walked all the way from the hotel to her dorm, Dennison Hall, to see where she would be living. Later, she and her sister, Alexa, wandered around Oxford and took note of any absurd house names (“Afternoon Delight” stood out) to tell their parents about later.
The next morning, before Kylie could even move into her dorm, she headed to Millett Hall to get her COVID test.
“I went at, like, 11:15, [and] there was one other car there,” she said.
Kylie and her family had been prepared to see long lines after reading the move-in advice on social media earlier in the week.
“I figured there’d still be some people there, but … no.” she added.
She was relieved that this test wasn’t the one that goes all the way up her nose – which she had to do two weeks prior – but just a small cotton swab to stick in her nostril. After twisting it around and handing it back to the lady (and sneezing), she was done.
After finishing her test, it was finally time for Kylie to start moving into her room.
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But instead of the usual sense of move-in day – packed buildings full of families and students and their accompanying luggage – Kylie and her family walked into a nearly silent and empty building.
“It just, it seems strange because it’s so quiet,” said Noelle Whitehead, Kylie’s mom. “Like, it was too easy. We just drove up and parked close and walked everything in, so it’s weird.”
Kylie and her family found her room in the corner of the building, with her name on the door and a colorful welcome message written on the whiteboard. Although it’s small, two big windows on either side of the room let in lots of light.
The whole family packed into the room, piling duffle bags and boxes onto the bed and the floor. Clanking noises from one particular bag, full of Kylie’s coffee mugs, echoed around the quiet hallway.
Kylie was also finally able to meet her roommate, Molly Lamue, who she had been talking to for the last eight months. Kylie found Molly on the housing website and noticed they were so similar, she could have written Molly’s bio herself. The two have been talking ever since.
Between the two girls, Kylie’s mom, dad and sister, and Molly’s mom, the room was filled to the brim with people, luggage and everything the girls would need for the next nine weeks. Molly pulled a little Iron Man action figure out of her bag to give to Kylie.
Kylie’s family left soon after getting everything moved in, but Molly’s mom (an alumna) would hang around for the rest of the weekend, picking up extra supplies and meeting up with her old college roommate.
The girls don’t plan on going out much, partly because Kylie is only 17, but they also aren’t interested in the bar scene much anyway. They are very cautious of COVID and have a small number of people they each plan to hang out with in order to keep their social circle small.
They also agreed to keep the number of people who enter the room to a minimum.
“I texted [Molly], like, a week ago, and I was like, ‘We can discuss this more in person, but let’s just like … [have] no other people in the room,’” Kylie said. “We can both hang out with maybe a couple other people.”
They definitely won’t be bored, though. Kylie brought a projector for their room, and they have a whole list of shows and movies they plan to watch together, beginning with Star Trek and The Mandalorian.
When it comes to making friends at Miami, Kylie has used the internet to her advantage. While a few of her friends are people she went to high school with who also attend Miami, neither Kylie nor Molly knew many people before stepping foot on campus.
Kylie had to find unique ways to connect with others in her class. She often puts her own personal thoughts, commentary and jokes into a shared Google Doc with her notes, and her classmates have found them so entertaining that they all share them as a way to lighten the mood and make the class a little more fun.
Later, after coming back inside once the fire department cleared the building and a few more hours spent unpacking, the girls had their first all-hall meeting.
Things looked a little different this year, though, as the meeting was held on Zoom.
The girls got to meet the RAs for their building, and Kylie even asked her Resident Director if he is a Twitch streamer after noticing the mic he was wearing (he’s not, but he has considered it).
Both Kylie and Molly have become very familiar with the platform, each having the majority of their classes fully online for the semester.
Despite having very few in-person classes, Kylie knew she still wanted to move to campus. After being quarantined with her family for months, she was ready to get out and live on her own, even if it’s just for nine weeks.
“I am definitely excited, mostly because I was supposed to move in a month ago,” she said. “So I’m just like, ‘yes, I’m finally here.’”
After the all-hall meeting, Kylie and Molly worked on homework and continued to unpack, with Molly’s mom dropping off even more food and supplies that she had picked up during the day.
Posters sat on the floor with coffee cans and textbooks on the corners to flatten them out. A shelving unit still in the box leaned against the wall, ready to be put together this weekend. By the time everything was brought in, boxes of food were stacked up higher than Kylie’s bed.
It will take a few days to get everything unpacked, but the girls don’t mind. Kylie was disappointed at first that she got the last possible time slot but now sees it as a positive that she has a few days to get settled before classes start again.
By 8 p.m., Kylie guessed her family would be arriving back in Northbrook soon, but she wasn’t feeling homesick yet.
“I’ve been going to an overnight camp since I was nine, so this is just like an extended version of that,” she said.
It also hadn’t quite hit her that she was moved-in and at college, especially because she wouldn’t attend classes until Monday.
“It feels like I’m at a hotel for the moment, but I had to bring my whole room with me,” she said.
Both Kylie and Molly are excited to begin their journey at Miami, even if it may not be quite in the way that they expected. They’ve settled into their classes and are beginning to learn their way around campus. Kylie doesn’t mind the changed dining halls, content to get food to-go and eat in her room.
They’ve run into some problems that are unique to this year, though, now that COVID-19 has changed almost everything.
“What do you do when you see someone [from] one of your online classes and you’ve never talked to them before, but you know what their bedroom looks like?”