BOONEVILLE • Students began moving into Northeast Mississippi Community College’s five residence halls on Wednesday ahead of the college’s Aug. 3 reopening, nearly five months since students last met for in-person classes.
Instead of the traditional single day for move-in where all students move into residence halls at the same time, college officials created a three-day plan to limit the number of people moving in at once.
Students living on the first floor of each residence hall moved in on Wednesday, while students on the second and third floors will move in on Thursday and Friday respectively. Students who live in even-numbered rooms will move in between 8 a.m. and noon, while those in odd-numbered rooms will move in from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Ulyssa Howard, a 19-year-old sophomore, and Jamiah Jones, an 18-year-old freshman, moved into their shared dorm room in Wood Hall on Wednesday morning.
Howard said she’s “a little nervous” about staying safe while attending traditional classes, but hopes that the fall semester goes well.
Jones is looking forward to seeing and interacting with people after her senior year of high school was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said her first experience with college move-in went well.
“It’s been pretty smooth, considering the circumstances,” Jones said. “They’re taking into consideration coronavirus going on. Everybody’s been pretty nice about it.”
Graple Duncan has worked as dorm supervisor for Wood Hall, which houses male and female students, for the past 12 years. She told students “we’re in a different world” as they came to pick up room keys on Wednesday.
This semester, students will not be allowed to congregate in residence hall lobbies and dorm kitchens will be closed. Laundry rooms will be open, but students will be required to practice social distancing.
In previous years, Graple had an open door policy, allowing students into her office to visit but that won’t be possible for her and other dorm supervisors this semester as they take precautions to protect themselves and students.
“I can’t connect with the kids,” Duncan said. “They’d come in here and tell me their troubles and we can’t do that now.”
Across campus at White Hall, Hayden Scarbrough moved furniture and other possessions into his room on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old third-year sophomore and NEMCC baseball player said the biggest change from move-in day the previous year is being required to wear a mask and not having to deal with a large crowd moving in all at once.
Scarbrough said he’s ready to be back and hopes everyone will get to remain on campus throughout the upcoming semester as the baseball team prepares for spring.
“It’s the longest I’ve gone without going to school and it’s also the longest I’ve gone without playing baseball,” Scarbrough said. “Everything’s been different. A lot of not being able to do what I would normally do.”
Maurice Weatherall is entering his fifth year as the supervisor of White Hall, a male dorm that primarily houses football, baseball, basketball and band students.
He will strictly enforce the use of face masks and social distancing within the residence hall during move-in and throughout the school year. Students won’t be allowed to congregate in the lobby, lounge area or hallways.
“They’re used to having eight, nine, ten people in a room playing Fortnite and all of those games, and that’s not going to be allowed anymore,” Weatherall said.
He’s a hands-on dorm supervisor and is used to “going to rooms, knocking on doors and saying ‘Hey, turn that stereo down,’” but won’t be allowed to enter students’ rooms this year.
“That’s not just for student safety, but it’s for my safety also,” Weatherall said. “Not that they’re going to able to get away with anything, but if I see something going on that needs to be addressed I have to notify campus police and campus police will come over. And combined with me, we’ll go in.”
Weatherall said he will evaluate how to handle situations a lot more carefully now due to COVID-19 precautions and will take into consideration that it’s going to be difficult for his dorm full of student athletes to not be able to move around and gather like they typically would.
“I’m going to have to be a little bit more patient with them and understand that if they get mad or snap at me because I told them they couldn’t stand in the hallway, I just can’t go run and call campus police on them,” Weatherall said. “I have to be more understanding and say ‘Hey, they’re used to doing this. They’ve been able to do it for a couple of years, but now they can’t.’”
If he sees someone who isn’t abiding by the rules, Weatherall said he’ll have to address it because he has every student’s best interest at heart.
“I can’t say ‘Well I’ll get them next time,’” Weatherall said. “There might not be a next time. Next time could be when the president calls and says ‘Four people in your building have tested positive, so we’re going to have to shut down White Hall.’ We don’t want that. We want them to have a great school year, we want them to be able to be here, to be able to go to class, to be able to interact with their friends.”
Once students return and begin classes on Monday, they will receive a three-question survey each morning at 6 a.m. asking three questions: have you been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with or tested positive for COVID-19, experienced COVID-19 symptoms or been diagnosed with COVID-19.
If students answer “yes” to any question, they will receive instructions with the next steps to take.
The screening survey will be optional for general population students, but mandatory for student athletes and anyone living in the college’s residence halls, according to Ray Scott, Vice President of Student Services.
The amount of students living in on-campus housing is on par with previous years.
Out of 826 total beds that would typically be available in dormitories across campus, there are only 57 beds left vacant – including 16 in rooms set aside for students who may be moved into COVID-19 quarantine. The quarantine rooms are spread out in dorms across campus, so a female would never be quarantined in a male dorm or a male in a female dorm.
Under CDC and state guidelines, any quarantined student must be housed in a separate room with its own bathroom where they will receive virtual learning and have meals delivered their room.
Throughout the semester, students will continue to be encouraged to wear a mask, wash their hands and social distance so they can have the best college experience possible within the guidelines set from a federal to local level.
“We’re going to navigate through it and when something happens, we’re going to take care of it and keep moving,” Scott said.
Scott said that the college as a whole is only going to be as good as the students who attend it, and if they do what’s needed to protect themselves and their fellow students, everything will be OK.
“If the worst thing they can say is ‘I had to wear a mask,’ then that’s pretty good,” Scott said.