Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Alfaro's desk at home (left) and Johnston's desk on campus (right). Photos courtesy of Lainie Alfaro and Charis Johnston.

Two alarms ring synchronously at 7 a.m. on Monday. Two PLNU students begin their morning of various activities, but both sit down for class at 8:30 a.m. Over Zoom, their lives intertwine. As students, they are identical: multimedia journalism major, Humanities Honors Program members, first-year students, 18 years old. Under normal circumstances, these two women would cross paths daily — going to class, grabbing meals at the cafeteria, late-night study sessions in the library. Yet, with circumstances being so unusual and unnavigated, these students have never met face-to-face.

In the past week, PLNU’s housing application reopened for first-year students. Elaine Alfaro and Charis Johnston discuss this new option, with each making a different decision. While Alfaro studies remotely at her home in San Diego, Johnston made the journey to Young Hall all the way from Washington state. Here’s what they had to say about their choices.

Why did you apply for housing?

CJ: I chose to apply for a couple different reasons. First, my house in Washington is currently under construction and would not be the best learning environment for me. Second, I was just so excited to find a community and begin my college career at PLNU. 

What did you expect life on campus to be like? Is the cost worth it?

CJ: I obviously didn’t expect the “normal” first-year experience. I thought there would be a small number of students on campus that stuck together and days would consist of solo studying in my dorm room. In reality, there are quite a few first-years in the dorms. It’s really cool to be part of a community again. Not only do I have a dorm to study in, but it’s also really nice to go do homework on the picnic tables outside the cafeteria, in the grass by Young Hall, by the cliffs or in the ARC. To me, the cost is very much worth it. I find a lot of peace knowing PLNU is my home for the next few years and it feels more settling to be here while I pursue a degree, even if it’s over Zoom. 

Do you feel like you’re missing out by choosing to stay home? 

EA: I don’t really know what community looks like at PLNU right now. I am not sure how isolated or involved people on campus might feel. But, I do feel like I am missing out on the experience of having neighbors and meeting new friends. It is completely different trying to form relationships over a screen, rather than saying hi in the hallway as you head to your room. But either way, I would be taking classes remotely so I thought I’d rather save money and still get the same education while in the comforts of my home.

Would you move on campus this semester if more housing opened up? 

EA: Honestly, I would only consider moving onto campus if classes were in-person or if chapel reopened to in-person services. Otherwise, I don’t see the value of moving since my home life is pretty good and I have my own study space.

How did COVID-19 impact your decision?

CJ: It did not have much of an impact on my decision. I wanted to move from my home in Washington either way; it was just a matter of figuring out where. With COVID-19 restrictions changing so quickly, it felt good to make a plan and actually have it become a reality. By being in a dorm, I just ensure I will not have to move again once things fully open up. 

EA: It honestly had everything to do with my decision. I worried about whether I would be exposed to COVID-19 because other students might not be following protocols. Also, I have a high-risk parent and I still wanted to see them on weekends. If I were to move into dorms, I would be putting them at risk when I came to visit. For those reasons, I chose not to apply for housing.

How do you feel connected to the PLNU community despite the distance?

CJ: I feel connected to PLNU not only because of my location, but also because of the effort the school demonstrated in bringing us together. Whether through alpha groups, small groups, social media interaction or faculty engagement, PLNU has demonstrated commitment to providing community for students wherever they are. No matter the distance, we have grown together through our shared experiences in loss, in fear, in faith and in making the decision to become PLNU students. EA: I have joined the PLNU community simply through the collaborative discussions in my classes. I really am grateful to be part of the Humanities Honors Program, because that is where I have made friends. I met Charis through it, and we were able to collaborate on this article despite never having met in person! The beauty of the PLNU community is it has made really great efforts to make us feel connected despite this transition to the digitized learning environment. That’s not to say there aren’t hiccups. But somehow, I do feel like I am making friends and becoming a PLNU sea lion!

Written By: Elaine Alfaro and Charis Johnston