Some Ohio University students say they still plan to live in Athens for the fall semester, even if they are taking the majority of their classes from a computer in an off-campus residence.
With leases on rentals signed nearly a year in advance and running from either May to May or August to August, many feel locked in for the long haul, regardless of how the university chooses to operate through December in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m already paying rent,” said Makayla Fritinger, a senior from Middlefield, Ohio, studying anthropology. “I didn’t want to be paying for it if I wasn’t living there and I had to pay either way.”
Fritinger moved back to Athens in May, at the start of her lease, and has been taking summer classes online at OU.
“It’s a lot easier to focus on my classes, especially when they’re online, if I can sit down and be in my own space,” she said.
The university had previously planned to begin some in-person instruction for all students on Aug. 24, after switching to primarily remote classes back in March following spring break.
The university, however, reversed course and announced Friday morning that it planned to have students return to campus in phases, with the majority of students completing their first month of classes remotely — and with no certainty that all students will actually make it back to campus for in-person classes this semester.
But Olivia Gemarro, a senior studying english and sociology-criminology from Westerville, said after she moved into her dorm to start her sophomore year in 2018, Athens essentially became her permanent residence.
“I never really left after that,” Gemarro said in an interview.
Gemarro, who spent the summer interning at the Athens County courthouse and working as a server, said her parents don’t have a physical space for her anymore in their home, as they downsized.
For some, however, moving away from home and in with roommates amid a pandemic comes with its own challenges.
Cat Sommer, a junior studying integrated media from Hudson, Ohio, signed a lease at the start of her sophomore year for an off-campus apartment with three other friends for their junior year.
After leaving town in March when OU closed campus, Sommer planned to move back to Athens at the end of July. But then her roommate, an essential worker who was already living in the apartment for the summer, tested positive for COVID-19.
“I was originally going to move in way earlier than I am now,” she said in an interview.
Even with online classes for at least the first month of the semester, Sommer was hopeful that being back in town would mean she’d have the opportunity to participate in video shoots for her campus job. She said she still plans to eventually move into her apartment.
Graduate students also find themselves stuck with the question of what to do with their off-campus residences.
Luke Steiner, who recently graduated from OU and is set to begin his master’s program in the fall, said he is staying in Athens regardless of how the semester shapes up.
But Steiner added that a lot of people in his program are unlike him — many earned their undergraduate degrees from a different institution and are unfamiliar with living in Athens.
“They’re locked in, like we all are, into a lease for the school year,” he said in an interview. “Most people I’ve talked with are still planning on coming to Athens.”
Similar to Gemarro, Duncan Ofosu, a second-year international graduate student from Ghana, said Athens has become home for him, too. He’ll be staying in his off-campus apartment this fall.
According to the university’s announcement Friday, many graduate programs are also starting remotely, but Ofosu said he believes this is the safest way to go about operations right now.
“I think it’s actually in the best interest of everybody if classes are conducted in a cautious approach, online, until we get a grip on the virus,” he wrote in a message.