After months of social isolation and being spread across the globe, most first years are stepping onto campus for the first time and living with strangers. Like many others, I spent the first months of my college experience with my family in our home. We tried to handle (emphasis on tried) the political and health stress of this time together and got into a pandemic–friendly rhythm through household rules and habits to maximize our safety and sanity. 

Open communication has always been an asset to healthy cohabitation, but everyone's conversations with their roommates will need to be a bit more extensive for this upcoming semester. While we will still be chatting about shower schedules and music volume, the gab sessions will now include novel viruses and political unrest. Many have been trying to navigate these topics since last year. 

While writing this article, I worried that the piece would come across as preachy. We have been conditioned to think that having valid concerns about COVID could give the impression of superiority or judgement. However, it is vital to talk with the people you live with about your needs in an uncertain time. It is hard to know what to discuss, and often, these conversations are not easy. But that doesn't diminish their importance. Here’s a number of necessary topics to cover while sharing a space this upcoming semester and some strategies to come up with a clear plan. 

Pandemic Behavior 

Everyone has different boundaries when it comes to COVID. Even Penn’s website refers to the differing expectations within pods as it states pods should “have open and honest conversations about activities, behaviors, and expectations of one another.” It’s important to know where your housemates stand on COVID behavior, especially if they are strangers. Healthline and the CDC both gave expert advice to approach this chat that can be boiled down to these six points: 

1.  Remain relaxed and don't approach this with an edge of superiority. 

No one knows what this semester holds, and we are all trying are best to stay safe and happy. They are living through the same experience. The topics that are bothering you are probably also on your roommate's mind. 

2.  Show and foster empathy and openness

The best way to get through this semester will be with transparency. Issues will arise if people aren't upfront about their needs. Also, COVID brings a lot of fear and anxiety into your living space. Handling these conversations with kindness will only strengthen your experience and relationships. 

3. It's not you, it's me.... 

Starting the discussion about your particular expectations and concerns will minimize the chances of the conversation turning uncomfortable. We can't assume others' feelings with COVID and, like with point one, we don't want to begin this chat with an air of judgement or superiority. 

4. Cultivate a sanctuary in your room

Make your room a place where you feel relaxed and safe. That is the one space you have absolute control over. Make sure to keep it clean and decorate it however you like, you don't have to compromise for anyone in your own room!

5. Can you just skip this chat? (Hint: NO)

We can't emphasize this enough. Just talk. This is not a skippable conversation.

6. Setting norms for cleanliness

During a pandemic, we have to clean more often than usual and with CDC–approved disinfectants. It may make sense to include cleaning routines as a part of your initial COVID behavior chat. 

Penn From Your Room

An integral part of this semester will again be the universally annoying experience of online classes. Taking classes and assessments in the same space can be very tricky, and it may warrant a conversation about weekday expectations. I can barely keep track of my own schedule, let alone others' around me. A solution could be to have a master calendar, which can be online or on a whiteboard where everyone can write down their important exam windows or interviews. 

Homey Vibes

Who isn’t tired of living through historic events? In all seriousness, this semester comes with a lot of external pressure. We're worried about vaccine distribution. We have a fraught presidential transition on our hands as a country. Meanwhile, us students are taking courses and many of us are moving to a new city for the first time. Knowing this, an important topic to cover as a pod is how to make your home a safe space. Perhaps this may mean your group will look into becoming more politically active. Maybe you'll go on weekly walks together for your wellbeing. It could even mean virtual Bachelor Monday viewing parties!

Simply put, it's going to be a weird semester. There is not much we can control, but we do have a say in the type of environment we're living in. It may not solve everything, but sitting and chatting with your pod will make life a lot better! 


All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.