Secret Parties & Zero Hookups: This Is Dorm Life In 2020

Designed by Yazmin Butcher.
"Picking a university was as much about the experience as it was about the school. I knew I’d probably learn more from moving away from home and being thrown into a new environment than I would from an actual degree. And even though COVID hit the spring before my first year, there was a zero-percent chance that I was going to pay to sit at home in Burlington, ON and watch online lectures. Montreal is a super cool city and McGill University has an interesting sustainability program. I moved into my dorm at the end of August.
"I was there when we dropped my older brother off at Western University in 2016, and it was total chaos. There were frosh leaders pulling students everywhere and people going crazy. Even my dad, who had driven with us, warned me, 'Be prepared. They are going to pull you out of the car!'
"When we arrived at my campus, there was nobody. Just a dude who worked for the school and had a little trolley to put my bags on. Because of coronavirus, they had staggered scheduled move-ins over the week, so by the time I arrived, half of the residence was here, including my roommate — there are two of us in a three-bedroom apartment — and the two guys across the hall, who poked their heads out to say hi. My parents aren’t too nervous about me living in residence; they acknowledge that there's a risk that I could get the virus, but they want me to have this experience. Still, when they left, my dad was like, 'Okay, you’re coming back with us,' and cracking all these bad jokes.
"So far, the school seems to be managing dorm safety pretty well. They are keeping residences at 75% capacity and everyone is supposed to wear masks outside of their unit. From what I’ve heard, they’ve closed all residences with common washrooms and poor ventilation. Dining halls are open with different hours and seating, although I don’t have a meal plan because I have a kitchen.
"Frosh week events weren’t mandatory — in fact, I don’t know anyone who went to more than two frosh events. They were so terrible. It was just icebreakers on Zoom. Because there was nothing to do, the first two days were so underwhelming. I sat around all day. My roommate and I would go grocery shopping or to the market. We would make our course schedules or try to figure out the laundry machines. At night we ventured out into Montreal.
"We haven't really interacted with people from other residences because there’s no in-person welcome week and McGill is such a spread-out campus. Everyone was so desperate to meet people that whenever we saw someone walking down the hall in our dorm, we’d be like, 'Hi! What's your name?' and exchange Snapchats. We have a Whatsapp group chat for my residence, which gets like 1,000 messages a day. It seems like the social groups are a bit split when it comes to COVID-19: those who are high-risk and concerned about the virus, who are asking people not to go out. And there are people who say, 'If you're a high-risk individual, why would you live in residence?' We're trying to be respectful of the high-risk people, but we also want to have fun.

A few days in, we were able to get a group of people together who like to drink and party. Everyone went out on the lawn, drinking vodka sodas and wine and playing games until campus security came and told us we couldn’t have that many people together.

A few days in, we were able to get a group of people together who like to drink and party. Everyone went out on the lawn, drinking vodka soda and wine and playing games until campus security came and told us we couldn’t have that many people together. Since then, we’ve found an outdoor spot off-campus about a 10-minute walk away. There will be 20 of us there drinking, playing games — there’s a ping-pong table so we play beer pong, king’s cup, or just card games like President or Euchre.
"After that, we'll split into smaller groups and come back to the dorm. We have to be super quiet because there's a security guard who peruses the halls at night, and he will kick people out of your apartment if it's too loud. You're only allowed one extra person in the room. We sneak in five. We’ve hosted two themed potlucks so far with as many as nine people. One night last week, a bunch of us got drunk outside. We were kicked off the lawn so we snuck people into our room and kept drinking. At around 4 a.m., most people went to sleep, but my roommate and I decided we would never get up for our 8:30 a.m. classes, so we climbed Mont Royal drunk. It was a really pretty sunrise!
"I’m also focusing on getting back into the school groove. I started classes and it’s tricky to pay attention. Because I took a gap year, I never did online school like the majority of other first-year students. After my first class, I thought, holy this is boring. There are definitely some teachers who are going to be way, way, way, way better for online. I have one who set up a green screen and was working all summer to make his lectures interesting. Another is so monotone. I'm not excited for classes, but the people so far have exceeded my expectations.
We aren’t practising social distancing and we don’t really wear masks. (I will if I’m beyond my bubble of 15). That said, no one is really hooking up with each other. A lot of times it will just be a group of eight of us so that’s a super different vibe than hooking up with people at a party. It’s too awkward.
"Compared to students in other residences, my friends and I have been pretty good about following the rules. Campus security broke up an inter-floor party in another res during the first week. Security says they can give us an academic offense after too many infractions, but we think they're bluffing. Although one security guard has been taking pictures of people's IDs when they get busted.
"I've been out to a bar a few times. We tried to get up and mingle with strangers and the staff told us to sit back down. Some bars have been cancelled by students because they get too wild. One bar I went to seemed decently safe. Most of the time, when people got out of their chairs, they wore masks. But we were mingling with people from outside of our circle; I was sitting at a table with people from another residence. I think we're all just excited that we're 18 and can buy alcohol.
"I’m not too worried about catching COVID; I actually think I had it when I came back from travelling through the U.S. and Australia in March during my gap year. I had a really high fever and shortness of breath. This was before they were testing everyone. So far, this semester, there's no one at McGill who has tested positive; the school has said they will tell us. There’s also no one in residence who has reported symptoms.
"Knowing that cases in Quebec are getting worse and worse, I will probably be more cautious. I'm just hoping that the numbers don't get so bad that they will have to crack down on us more than they already are. If we can't have a six-person get-together in a room, what are we going to do in the winter when we can't go outside? Still, I'm feeling good about being here! I’m definitely glad I decided to move to Montreal and be in residence instead of living at home. Schoolwork is picking up now and everyone is bummed that we can't party every night. But I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to move to a new city and meet new people despite COVID-19."
As told to Carli Whitwell. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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