A Room to Herself

February 04, 2021

Xindi Sun ’22 is one of the 100+ Grinnell College students who’s been in continuous residence since campus closed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. This group of students faced a challenging situation—suddenly they were living alone on a nearly empty campus while continuing to take classes.

What has it been like?

For Sun, a biological chemistry and music double major from Shanghai, China, one of the bright spots in the whole thing, she says is “being able to have a room all to [myself].”

Another bright spot was “being able to live in a group of people we know, the same scurry,” she says.

“Scurry” is the name Grinnell has given to a group of students that’s chosen to live near one another, either on the same floor or the same residence hall. Sun’s scurry includes students from Vietnam, Japan, and China.

All students within a scurry still need to wear masks, physically distance, and do all the other things to keep themselves safe, but having friends nearby helps relieve the sense of isolation somewhat.

For Sun, an introvert, all the alone time was not much of an issue. Instead, it was having fewer places to study. Most academic buildings were closed in 2020, although Noyce Science Center was open for several hours each day.

“It’s really, really hard to motivate myself,” she says. “Normally, if I could switch my study space, it’s easier to engage in my work and focus more. Even though my workload is reduced, I still procrastinate on everything, really bad.”

She appreciates interacting with her professors during this time. They’ve been even more approachable, she says. “They show care for students even online.”

A Sense of Community in Small Interactions

One reason for getting out of her room was to work with a fellow music major on campus. “There’s a piano in the dorm he has access to, so we meet there and use the piano and talk about music,” Sun says.

She and two others also wrote original compositions for the fall production of Eurydice.

Sun also sings in the choir. Students rehearse together online, but they record individually and John Rommereim, Blanche Johnson Professor of Music, edits the pieces together.

“Recording in my room involves this awkwardness,” Sun says, smiling. “If someone walks past my room and I hear them, and I happen to be singing a really high note, I feel awkward.”

When students first left last spring, campus “was a little bit lonely, but later it was kind of nice,” she says.

Life on campus during the pandemic has certainly been different, but it has also presented some opportunities for appreciation.

As an example, Sun points to the Aug. 10 derecho, a storm with powerful, straight-line winds that downed trees and power lines and damaged buildings on campus and in many communities throughout Iowa. The electricity was out for several days.  

Despite the hardship, one thing Sun appreciated about it was that “when the lights are all off, you can see a lot of stars in the sky. It gives us a chance to realize what is always with us and to appreciate that.”


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