By SONAL TULSYANI
TEANECK, N.J. — After receiving the email during spring break that campus was closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is quite possible that student panic spread faster than the coronavirus itself.
All of a sudden, students had to make plans to travel back home and wait for further instruction. Many students still had belongings in the residence halls and had to make time on Sunday, March 15, or Monday, March 16, to come in, get their stuff and go back home — not knowing if they would return. Little did they know, that was their time to bid adieu to their fall and spring housing.
There were exceptions, however. Student-athletes and people who had no alternative housing options were permitted to stay. One by one, they all watched as each of the buildings closed and reduced hours.
Clubs, sports and events were cancelled first. Classes were moved online. The library, Kron building, University Hall, Riverside Cafe, Dickinson Cafe and the business library closed. The bookstore and dining hall reduced their hours. It wasn’t long before a curfew of 8:00 p.m. was established as the virus began to affect more local people.
There are clear protocols for everything, and dining is no exception. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, go through one door to enter the dining hall, do not sit down, order a prepared to-go meal and exit through another door. Maintain a social distance if you can.
Inside the dining hall, all of the chairs are flipped upside down and the seats of the chairs rest on the table. The drink dispensers are gone, and on the counter where the cereal and milk dispensers and toaster used to be, there are outlets. It is as if the electric appliances came to the dining hall, recharged and left. That is what students do at the dining hall: they go in, pick up food and leave to wherever they will go next.
Once in a while, there are a few people here and there. Walking along the sidewalk of River Road, you look to your right, and you’ll see the bright green of the grass, the bushes and the tree leaves. You’ll see the colorful buildings that line the street, which you may have not noticed because your attention would have swerved to the people walking on them.
Without the people bustling past you because they are late to class and you aren’t, you have a moment to stop and stare. You can almost see your first steps into the first dorm you ever lived in, as you fumble to unlock the door by scanning the student ID the wrong way until the light on the lock turns green.
If you live on campus, or maybe even if you didn’t, you would have noticed that there are empty tables and empty benches in between the University Courts. Every day, there would be groups of people sitting at those tables at different times throughout the day, and now there is no one.
On the right, there are buildings with locked doors, closed windows and closed blinds. The lights are out. To your left, cars pass by like nothing ever happened, although there aren’t as many cars on the street as there used to be. There aren’t as many people on the street, but when there are, they are usually running.
Whether they are running from the disease or to be in better shape to fight it off is unknown, but they are doing everything they can do right now. They can eat healthier, exercise more to boost their immune system because there is yet to be a vaccination that can help. Any measure that people can take to cope with the coronavirus is being taken by the residents of this community.
A popular hangout area near the dorms on the Teaneck side of campus sits empty. (Sonal Tulsyani photo)