'It's bizarre': Students move into MSU dorms, the smallest number in decades

Craig Lyons
Lansing State Journal

EAST LANSING – When Sophia Balow returned from spring break in March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across Michigan, she packed up her dorm room and went home.

“It was a sad day,” she said.

On Sunday, she and her parents moved her into Wonders Hall, one of the few Michigan State University dorms housing students this fall.

Few other cars were queued outside the residence halls as she loaded carts to take into the dorm. People walking along the sidewalks were scarce. Most everyone wore a mask.

“It’s weird. It’s bizarre,” Balow said.

Sophia Balow, center, an MSU sophomore and Spartan swimmer, gets some help from her parents Debbie and Mike Balow as she moves into North Wonders Hall on the Michigan State University campus Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020.

MSU has moved almost all fall semester classes online over COVID-19 concerns, and MSU President Samuel Stanley urged everyone with only online classes scheduled to stay home.

Which is why fewer than 2,000 students will live in campus dorms at Michigan State University this fall. During a normal school year, about 14,500 students live in on-campus housing.

MSU opened only Wilson Hall, Wonders Hall, Case Hall, Holden West Hall, Holmes Hall, Owen Hall, McDonel Hall and Van Hoosen Hall to students moving back to campus this fall. Akers Hall was set up as self-isolation housing for students who either test positive for COVID-19 or were potentially exposed to the new coronavirus, according to MSU.

About 1,200 additional students will be living in on-campus apartments, according to MSU. 

Michael Sandoval, an incoming freshman from Rochester Hills, left, gets ready to move another load of his belongings into his dormitory at North Case Hall while his dad, Mike, finds out where to park the U-Haul truck and his mom, Valerie stays with the last load Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Michigan State limited the number of students moving into dormitories to 2,000 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freshman Mike Sandoval looked forward to his first year and living on campus. He said he’s never lived on his own before and wanted a more traditional freshman experience.

Sandoval will be living in a single room with few others in Case Hall. He said it seemed like MSU was taking the right steps to protect its students.

“I think it will be fine,” Sandoval said.

Mike Balow, Sophia’s dad, also said he thought the campus was taking the right precautions.

“We wouldn’t bring her here if we didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do,” Mike Balow said.

Nicole Scott, of Grosse Pointe Woods, moved her daughter, Sarah, into Case Hall Sunday but knew it would be anything but the traditional first year.

“This is not what I expected,” Nicole Scott said.

Incoming MSU freshman, Sarah Scott, from Grosse Pte. Woods, center, holds on to one cart as her sister Alice, left, and their mom Nicole, load up another at North Case Hall Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Michigan State University limited the number of students to 2,000 in the various dormitories because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

She’s cautiously optimistic that the semester will go smoothly but is still concerned about the virus’ spread.

“As a mother, I’m horrified of the virus,” she said.

MSU requires people on campus to wear a mask or face covering, has limited the number of in-person classes and restricted large gatherings.

“I feel like they’re doing a pretty good job of it right now,” Freshman Sam Bens said.

Campus won’t be as exciting and lively, he added, but once more students are back, he expects that life on campus will feel more normal.

“It’s a little different,” Bens said. “It will be a good change to get out.”

While C. J. Bens unloads the cartop carrier, his son Sam loads up the cart to take to his dorm room in West Holmes Hall on the Michigan State Universtiy Campus Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020.

C.J. Bens said his son didn’t want to go to a small school and decided on MSU. But with the restrictions on the number of students living on campus, it won't quite be the large-school experience Sam expected, he said.

“He’s essentially going to a small school,” C.J. Bens said.

He’s happy Sam was able to be on campus and get a more traditional freshman experience, even if much of it is online, he said. 

Classes begin Wednesday, Sept. 2. Any in-person classes will end Nov. 25 and move entirely online.

Incoming sophomore Jared McElroy from Detroit, moves into North Case Hall on the Michigan State University campus Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. He says he likes the idea of virtual classes and no suitemates because he likes to stay in his room anyway.

Sophomore Jared McElroy, of Detroit, doesn’t expect his second year to be much different from the first. He said he mostly stayed in his room and did his school work, even when classes were in person.

“It’s not going to be that much of a change for me,” he said.

McElroy said he looked forward to returning to MSU even though all his classes will be online. He said it will be easier to work with a little more peace and quiet.

"Here, it's just work," he said.

Contact reporter Craig Lyons at 517-377-1047 or calyons@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @craigalyons.