By LARRY VAUGHT
Most days I drive by the Centre College campus in Danville and notice one thing — it’s empty.
COVID-19 cancelled on-campus classes in March and now all classes are conducted online with the majority of students no longer on campus. However, some students — for different reasons — are still on campus. Many are international students unable to travel home, but some are like Eric Kessler, a senior from Manhattan.
He quickly sensed he quickly understood daily life in Danville due to COVID-19 would not be dramatically different but it would be if he returned home to New York.
“I knew going home might be putting myself and my family at further risk of contracting the virus by adding to the people in our apartment,” Kessler said. “Also with online classes I thought there might be a benefit to be closer to friends to go hang out and not just be stuck in New York. Also academically if I had a question or a group project it would be a lot easier to meet with that person or get in touch if I needed to.”
Kessler thought about driving home rather than flying to make it easier for him to get back to campus if he wanted to return to Danville. But having a car also let him stay in Danville initially because he knew he could drive home later if needed.
Once the decision to close campus was officially made, Kessler was in limbo about what to do. He knew his brother, who goes to school in New York, would have to move back home. He also knew some students might be allowed to stay on campus so he made the request and it was granted.
His parents were okay with that because him and his brother would have had to share a room in their Manhattan apartment and that would “drive up stress” for everyone.
“I made the case Danville was small. I could go to the park and run and stay six feet away from people. It would not be like running in Midtown or Central Park where you couldn’t avoid people,” Kessler said. “They were concerned about the capacity of regional hospitals in smaller towns but I told them I thought Danville was safer than New York.”
Life on campus has been a lot different in recent weeks. He was living in a four-person suite where each person had a single bedroom, shared a bathroom with one person and had a common living room. For a few weeks he was alone in the suite.
“I went to the grocery store and stocked up and was lucky to even get toilet paper even though the Centre cleaning crew replenishes toilet paper,” he said. “I cleaned every thing.”
Eventually Centre consolidated students left on campus into two dorms and he now has a roommate but each still has plenty of room.
The normal dining room is close but three meals a day are still served in a common area with tables spaced six feet apart with just one chair at most tables.
“Usually you just walk in around meal time, pick up a meal and go back to your room to eat,” he said. “It’s a very solitary life and you can kind of go crazy. I wake up, get breakfast, go for a run, do homework. Every day is about the same.
“I stay in touch with my parents daily and get updates from them. I started out watching the news a little bit and then it got more depressing, so I stopped. I have started running more to take a chunk out of my day. If I need to do homework, I go in one of the upstairs rooms at the campus center and will be the only person in the room for hours.”
He praised Centre’s public safety personnel for making sure students had masks, thermometers and sanitizer. He said there’s also expert help available if needed for “mental or physical” health. Kessler also likes the way Centre has got food from local restaurants each Saturday night for the students to enjoy and break the daily routine.
Finals will be next week at Centre and then Kessler is not sure what he’ll do. He has a double major with one in economics/finance and one in international studies. He has a job opportunity in Louisville but the start date has been delayed by COVID-19 so he’s not sure whether to get an apartment in Louisville or possibly find a friend willing to let him stay for a short time.
“I would have to imagine there will be some international students who can’t return home and the school might have to expand the ability to stay on campus. I don’t know how lenient that will be and with me being from New York if they would let me stay or not,” he said. “Right now everything is just up int he air about whether I go home, go to Louisville or stay on campus once the school year ends on May 20th.
“But I’ve been lucky. I know a lot of people who have been affected a lot more than me. Centre has been great helping us out and keeping us safe, so I really can’t complain over having to deal with a little boredom.”