‘It’s so good to be back’

Alex Stern, left, and Meghan Fennessy, right, wheel their belongings into the Davenport residence building. Stern, from Colorado, and Fennessy, from Massachusetts, are roommates. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Marie Senescall was so excited to return to Boston for the start of the fall semester that all the second year biology and English major could think of on the 20-hour drive from home in Minneapolis was the semblance of normalcy from being on campus again.

“It’s so good to be back,” she said, flanked by her parents, all in face masks and keeping their distance from others.

Jack Gitter felt the same way. The sophomore, who is studying computer science, drove almost five hours from New Jersey to be among the initial group of students who moved into residence halls in the tradition known as “move-in weekend.”

“It’s definitely nice to be back with everything going on,” Gitter said outside of West Village F as he unloaded belongings from the back of a Jeep into a red crate. “It’s nice to have the community aspect of seeing my friends and to be here for classes and see my professors.”

A conga line of cars, pickup trucks, and sport utility vehicles formed outside the various residence buildings on an overcast and drizzly Saturday morning.

At the Davenport housing complex on Columbus Avenue, moving crews wearing clear plastic ponchos rushed to vehicles as they inched their way forward. In a blink, heavy suitcases and bags were wheeled away in large bins and placed beneath white tents on the sidewalk before making their way indoors.

The bins were full of the usual trappings of dorm life: big-screen televisions, clothes, mirrors, books, chocolate chip cookies, and boxes of instant macaroni and cheese.

Meanwhile, check-in crews with pens crossed off students’ names on lists. Bottles of hand sanitizer were nearby, and everyone involved in the choreography of getting people and their bags where they needed to be wore face coverings as a preventive measure against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Volunteers stationed throughout the university grounds wore turquoise blue T-shirts reminding people to “#ProtectThePackNU.”

Matthew Robinson, right, is helped with his bags as they are transported to his campus residence. Robinson arrived from his home in Miami the day before and was awaiting results of this test for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Students who arrived in Boston via other modes of transportation said fellow travelers were also being responsible.

Alex Stern, a second year business major who took JetBlue from Denver, said passengers wore face coverings and no one occupied the middle seat.

“We were separated between aisle and window seats and I had the air on me the whole time, so it was good,” she said standing next to her roommate, Meghan Fennessy, a second-year business administration student who wore a face mask that said “Kind People Are My Kind of People.” 

Matthew Robinson, who studies business, found an ideal situation on his American Airlines trip from Miami.

“The flight was half-full and I had my own row.”

Moving to Boston for both of them was reassuring, in light of the outbreak back home, and the frequent testing they will undergo on the Boston campus.

I think Boston is doing a lot better than where I am from, Miami,” Robinson said. “And also the school makes you feel really safe with the amount of testing they’re doing. I have a twin sister who goes to Indiana University and I keep hearing that they’re having all these problems with parties and things. I feel like Northeastern has a much better grasp on the situation.”

Students will continue to move into their residences over the next 10 days, longer than the usual four or five, to prevent clustering.

Also different this year—in the past, the immediate streets around the university would usually be packed with vehicles for moving-in weekend, and parents would normally be helping carry their children’s luggage into dorms. 

Not this year, though; traffic was light, and volunteers are doing the heavy lifting.

Jack Gitter, a student of computer science, unloads his belongings as he prepares to move into West Village F. “It’s definitely nice to be back with everything going on—to have the community aspect of seeing my friends and to be here for classes, see my professors, all of that I’m excited to be back for,” Gitter says. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Students will be expected to isolate themselves in their rooms for the first evening while they await the results of their first coronavirus test. Students must be tested the day they arrive, then on day three, followed by day five—and will be able to attend classes in person after receiving negative results on all three tests.

After their three initial tests, students, with some exceptions, will be tested twice a week.

A host of virtual events and individual activities are planned while students await their initial results, says Lisa Commendatore, director of student orientation and family programs at Northeastern. 

The schedule, which can be found online and on the Welcome Week mobile app, includes events such as online game nights, virtual caricature drawings by an artist, virtual yoga, and more. 

“This is really a great time for students to get to know and bond with their roommates and get comfortable in their new space,” Commendatore said.

Other outdoor events are planned for the rest of the weekend and the following week, culminating in convocation on Sept. 8. 

The continued focus on safety while keeping students entertained was reassuring to one parent of a freshman.

“Initially we didn’t know what to expect,” said Anne White-Smith of herself and her daughter, Kira Briggs. “We didn’t know how she’s going to meet people, how they’re going to be social.”

With her daughter inside the Cabot Physical Education Center getting a nasal swab test, she added: “I’m really impressed with all the communication we’ve been getting from the university. They’re taking it seriously, which is reassuring.”

Emily Arntsen and Molly Callahan contributed to this report

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