Students find old and new ways of connecting on campus

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Long before there was satellite navigation, sailors would look to the stars to communicate position.

Look up, way up, on the Boston campus of Northeastern today, and high above the din a quiet conversation is going on between students and the outside world.

Jack Armstrong. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

What observers see as they pass near Davenport, Lightview, East Village and other residential buildings are messages that touch on the political, the pandemic, assorted current events, and even a social media handle or two. The signs in the windows are saying something more than the typical “Go Patriots” or “Mom, send money” that normally permeate a campus.

The coronavirus has taken a toll and left people craving connection and conversation in any shape and form, according to students.

“When someone puts a sign in a window, it’s a way of saying there are big issues out there,” said freshman Jack Armstrong.

One topic that is coming through loudly and clearly: Students are taking the coronavirus seriously.

“Yes Mask,” someone wrote in colored, sticky Post-It Notes on a second floor window of Davenport, with “Yes” in pink paper and “Mask” in yellow. The sign is hard to miss. It sits in a prime viewing location, with heavy pedestrian and car traffic on Columbus Avenue and crowds playing sports across the street in Carter Playground.

 The sign, as unconventional as it is, is a big hit.

“I think it’s cool, it’s definitely original,” said Kevin Roebelen as he emerged from the residence building.

The first year biology major from Houston said the decidedly low-tech paper notes were just another way for a generation raised on phones and apps to remind one another to play it safe during the pandemic.

“My generation has different modes of expression and we’re not just caught up in technology all the time,” he said.

Anyone paying attention lately has likely been reminded on social media and television over the last several months to wear a mask and stay spaced apart—so students in a dorm in West Village took a different route to remind students of the importance of keeping one another safe.

“ProtectThePack,” a nod to Northeastern’s #ProtectThePackNU coronavirus campaign, has been methodically and painstakingly constructed in multi-color notes.

“You have to make a statement somehow. It seems as if this is how students are going to do it,” said Joshua Aarons, a second-year transfer student who moved into Lightview a few weeks ago.

Just above his head, somewhere around the tenth floor above Columbus Avenue, another student chose to express feelings about a major news event that rocked the legal and political worlds.

“RIP RBG,” or Rest in Peace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The RIP was in blue while the RBG was spelled out in pink. The person in the dorm must have cared deeply about the former Supreme Court justice to take the time to meticulously craft lettering large enough to be seen from below. 

Aarons was crossing Columbus Avenue when he saw the Ginsburg message for the first time.

“I do find it pretty interesting,” he said.

The Stamford, Connecticut, resident said he doesn’t have a problem in general with fellow students expressing an opinion, “just as long as it doesn’t make any political statements that many people won’t agree with.” But, he added, pointing to the RIP RBG message, “I think we can all agree that this is a tragic time.”

Testaments to other current events were hard to miss around campus.

“Black Lives Matter” was painted in white on a window in the West Village area. A “Be Proud” sign with a rainbow heart hung in another window.

Meanwhile, over in East Village, a student sent birthday greetings to a friend: “Hpy bday Rahul,” while a few windows away came a simple “Hi” in green Post-It Notes. Smiley faces were popular.

Armstrong, the freshman, took a more high-tech route to meeting others. The Connecticut resident and entrepreneurial hopeful printed out a Quick Response Code and taped the mish-mash patterns of black and white squares on the door and window of his dorm in Stetson. Scanning the code takes people directly to his social media accounts.

He is working with Northeastern to put up QR codes around campus, enabling people to pull up a map of the university or schedule a test for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Until then, another student is pondering what message to put up in his dorm window in Lightview, the same building with “RIP RBG.”

“Honestly, one thing I’ve always been big on, and I stand by now, is to respect others,” said Aarons. “So I’d put something that just puts out the fact that everyone needs to be respected.”

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