During the height of the pandemic, some Stony Brook University students actually helped keep the university going, assisting with essential tasks and jobs that addressed the needs of their fellow students. Some even returned in the fall and spring semesters of the past academic year, not just to take classes in person but to pitch in to keep the campus community safe.
Senior Emmanuel Adarkwah was part of the work crew for campus residences and a member of a team of students who helped set up quarantine buildings, where infected students or those who had been in contact with COVID-positive people were isolated.
Work on those buildings started as early as April 2020, with rooms being outfitted with mini refrigerators, microwaves and linens provided by Stony Brook. “I always felt safe doing my job, “ Adarkwah said, listing the university-mandated precautions – wearing masks, social distancing and checking in with CampusClear, Stony Brook’s self-screening health app.
Still, Adarkwah tested positive during the spring 2020 semester and was moved to one of the quarantine buildings. “It felt weird,” he said. “Months ago I was helping set up those rooms. You know how they say, ‘Make your bed and now lie in it.’ That’s how it felt.”
“It’s not normal to be isolated or quarantined and we know that,” said Marissa Bisiani, assistant vice president for Student Health Wellness and Prevention Services. “So we try to make it as comfortable as possible. Your food is delivered to you and your laundry is done for you. We have to make sure you are stable, both emotionally and mentally.” Bisiani’s teams checked in regularly with quarantined students, keeping tabs on their temperatures and oxygen levels and other vital signs.
Required, frequent testing was one way Stony Brook managed to keep infection rates low and avoid a second total lockdown like many other colleges across the country faced. Residents were required to get tested twice a week at one of the testing sites on campus.
Senior Jannatul Pahi worked at one such site, where her duties included signing people in for their test appointments. “I wanted to participate and give back and help out,” she said. “I feel safe at the job. We sanitize everything and maintain social distance.”
Pahi also worked with the Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SBVAC). During the pandemic, SBVAC, which typically tends to medical emergencies on campus, transported COVID-positive students to quarantine buildings.
“It was incredible because we had every single shift filled,“ said Pahi, who has served as treasurer of the corps. “We have two positions that have to be filled at all times. It was heartwarming to see how people want to give back to the community and how important that sense of community is.”
For residents, much of student life revolves around the dorms. Under the best of circumstances, resident assistants help students navigate the ups and downs of living in a dorm, for many their first experience living away from home. The resident assistants who stayed on campus during the pandemic had to see students through these changes. In the words of senior Gavin Yu, who has been an RA for more than a year, “making things as normal as possible” was a large part of his job. “I don’t get to see my residents as much as I would. I’m still available for my residents and being a part of their college experience and making things as normal as possible.”
Yu also worked with SBVAC. “I got into it before the pandemic,” he said. “It’s just a way of giving back to the community … being able to be there for people during this vulnerable time is something that I truly cherish.”
Listen to more of Virain Palta’s report: