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Stockton students sad to give campus life an early goodbye
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Stockton students sad to give campus life an early goodbye

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Friends and classmates should have been reuniting and reminiscing about spring break trips at Stockton University this week, but instead, the campus was nearly empty.

Students began moving out of their dorms Friday after Stockton, like colleges across the state, closed its campuses in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Remote instruction for students began Wednesday and will continue through the end of the semester in May, with commencement also postponed.

“I’m a little sad,” said freshman Malekqua Washington, of Asbury Park, as she loaded up her car with plastic drawers, clothes and other items she collected from her dorm. “I was in denial. I felt like we would be able to come back, but now it’s real.”

Stockton announced to students Monday that they could sign up for time slots to return to campus and clear out their dorm rooms to maintain proper social distancing and abide by state guidelines of no more than 10 people gathering in one space.

Most of the students are scheduled, with about 140 students who are allowed to stay on campus longer due to unique circumstances like being from out of state or international, as well as those without other housing options to return to.

Steve Radwanski, executive director of residential life, said that for those students who must remain on campus, shuttles are continuing to operate and that the campus cafeteria maintains limited hours.

Radwanski said his staff is still trying to maintain programming for students, too.

On Thursday, the college’s Student Senate and the university hosted a town hall on the web-based video platform, Zoom, with nearly 300 participants. The hosts answered questions about everything from academics, to housing credits and refunds, to graduation. Graduating seniors will get refunds, and all other students will receive credits for housing and meal plans, as well as transportation fees, Radwanski said.

He said they are also planning virtual Zumba and a virtual bingo game in the near future.

“My team, even though we’re working from home, are being very creative,” he said.

Samantha Perone, 19, of Clayton, Gloucester County, a sophomore transfer student, said she has been keeping up with her new sorority sisters from Sigma Delta Tau virtually since leaving Stockton earlier this month. Moving out of her dorm Friday, she also said she was sad.

The criminal justice major said she is losing out on face-to-face contact with professors who often teach and speak from experience in the field, as well as participating in her sorority’s initiation or formals.

“It’s overwhelming, honestly, because you move in and you’re making friends and all of that got cut short,” Perone said. “It’s an odd situation.”

In the housing on the other side of Lake Fred, 19-year-old Michael Killebrew, of Sicklerville, Camden County, was also packing up his car.

“I wish I could have stayed here and chilled here with my friends, but you got to do what you got to do,” said Killebrew, who is majoring in political science.

Chris Catching, vice president of student affairs for the college, said he has been inspired by everyone’s willingness to innovate, and their added flexibility and patience during unprecedented circumstances.

“We’re all a community that has banded together to help students through this,” Catching said. “I think the encouraging part is that this is a shared experience, not only at Stockton, but through the state and country.”

Catching said the feeling on campus Friday was very different from in years past.

“Like everyone, when I think about spring semester, I think about graduation, celebration, warmer weather,” he said.

The campus parking lots, usually filled with cars and pedestrians on a weekday in March, were nearly empty. Security personnel patrolled the now lifeless streets that connect the academic buildings and housing units, and yellow caution taped waved in the wind from basketball courts where students would have usually taken advantage of the spring temperatures.

“I wanted to experience the warm weather on campus,” lamented Washington, 18, who is studying social work.

She said she’ll also miss the freedom of living away from home. Since leaving for spring break, Washington has been spending most of her time inside the home. Her mom, Tamara Williams, said she was also upset for her daughter.

“It’s her first year of college, and it wasn’t supposed to end like this,” Williams said. “Hopefully, September, she’ll be back and everything will be normal.”

For more virtual events hosted by Stockton’s Residential Life, visit sites.google.com/stockton.edu/connect/virtual-programming.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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