Once-bustling campuses look eerily empty since students and staff work from home

Since most classes moved online, the Hammond and Westville campuses often resemble ghost towns.

Gone are study groups meeting in crowded cafeterias, friends gathering in computer labs to rehearse a coming presentation and desperate students cramming for an exam in a corner of the libraries. 

Instead, caution tape isolates bookshelves in once lively libraries, giving them the appearance of a crime scene: the demise – at least temporarily – of a lively campus.

“I saw a lot of regulars before COVID,” said librarian assistant Elizabeth Bunton. “Now I’m lucky if I see one.”  

The caution tape ensures that students do not inadvertently overcrowd the stacks or seating areas, enforcing the university’s social distancing rules.

Prior to COVID-19, Bunton’s Westville library would see 40 to 50 people during its peak hours. These days, “the most I’ve seen here was seven,” she said. 

The library’s in-person staff has been reduced. The four front-desk workers have been downsized to two. Those workers happily step behind the caution tape to snag a book for anyone in need.

However, to ensure the library serves the needs of distance learners, the employees removed from front-desk duty now work from the comforts of their own homes. From a distance, they support the library’s newest addition, the chat box, located on the library’s website. 

The ghost town feel stretches past the library, affecting Westville’s coffee shop, which typically had two people working each shift. Students who once rushed the space for coffee to make it through another lecture are gone. The lights are off and the closed sign is the only thing greeting passersby.

A few steps away, the few chefs working at the campus’ cafeteria have learned to be baristas, and can brew up numerous caffeinated concoctions. They also can serve that coffee with some food hot off the grill. 

In Hammond, the cafeteria in SUL operates with limited hours.  And, while some cars are scattered through the campus lots, tables throughout the cafeteria are largely empty.

Matthew Zipko, a graduate student, is conflicted about it.

“I’m a people person,” he said. “I like that the campus is more quiet and that you can focus better, but I also miss the interaction with all of my fellow students and my friends.”