Study walks on an empty campus

Stay home, stay safe

More than 6,000 students move off campus in record speed

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In early March, one week before the Grand Valley community began to experience the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Housing and Residence Life staff members were already discussing what to do if the virus spread to West Michigan. 

Days later, the department had to react. On March 11, President Philomena V. Mantella announced instruction would shift to remote learning beginning March 16, at least through March 29, because cases were reported in Michigan’s Oakland and Wayne counties. 

Many students who live on campus went home, and those with unique circumstances could apply to stay. Candice Cadena, living center director, said she was hopeful about returning to campus after those two weeks. Before the two-week period ended, Mantella announced remote instruction would continue for the remainder of the semester due to guidance from the CDC, recommendations and executive orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and President Donald Trump. 

Two photos: a mother and daughter embrace during move out, and a student's younger brother watches from the back of a van
Left: Lauren Martin, left, teases her mom, Christy Martin, when she started to get emotional while helping her move out of Hoobler Living Center on May 1. Martin, from Kalamazoo, is a first-year student who is studying biology. / Right: Donavan Perkins, 5, watches his older sister Taylor McMiller, right, load her belongings as she moves out of Holton-Hooker Learning & Living Center.
Person talks on the phone in a living center office
Candice Cadena, Laker Village living center director, checks in on the phone with a student still on campus while putting away keys from students who moved out. (Amanda Pitts)

“It was hard to hear we weren’t going to have a proper goodbye,” Cadena said.

Colleen Lindsay-Bailey, associate director of Housing and Residence Life, said staff members had to create a move-out process that followed CDC and state guidelines for the roughly 6,000 students who live on campus.

“We were able to very quickly, at record speed, come up with a check-out system,” Bailey said. “The main thing for us was putting safety at the forefront.”

The check-out system is typically hands-on, as a resident assistant goes room-to-room. It transitioned to a hands-off process that still provided excellent customer service, according to Bailey.

“We didn’t lose sight of keeping our students, parents and the Grand Valley community safe,” Bailey said.

To limit the amount of people on campus, students signed up to move out on a day that met their needs. They put their keys and laundry card in a self-sealed envelope and placed it in a drop box. Staff members were on-site, social distancing, to provide support.

However, plans shifted again when Gov. Whitmer enacted a “stay home, stay safe” executive order, which went into effect March 24, about halfway through the move-out process. About 1,300 students had to leave behind personal belongings until move-out resumed May 1, when an executive order from Whitmer permitted travel between residences. 

Through the remainder of the semester, 12 living center directors lived on campus. They each received a caseload of students from the small population still in campus housing and frequently checked in with them. Bailey said the group of students who stayed on campus had highly exceptional needs — students without a home to return to, international students who couldn’t travel, students with a family member at-risk for getting the virus. 

Renzo Garza Motta, an electrical engineering junior and international student, was one of those students who continued to live on campus. He has family in Hawaii and Mexico, but said he wanted to stay at GVSU during the pandemic to be on top of his studies and continue working remotely for the Padnos International Center.

“I’ve been living on my own since I graduated from high school, so everything I own is in my room,” he said.

“We didn’t lose sight of keeping our students, parents and the Grand Valley community safe.”

Colleen Lindsay-Bailey, associate director of Housing and Residence Life

There was a period when Cadena said living center directors called or checked in with students every day. The frequency decreased as students had their needs met. However, Cadena said it was nice to talk to people about things other than the virus.

“This is a pretty traumatic thing for a lot of people,” she said. “I’m trying to find something to be grateful for each day. Remembering not to focus on all the bad.”

Housing and Residence Life staff members checked in daily via Zoom. They incorporated themes, such as “dream vacation spot.”

“We have learned a lot about our team through these themes,” Bailey said. “It keeps a serious time fun, and we appreciate that time with one another.” 

As the Grand Valley community navigates the current situation, Cadena said it has taught her to be kind and gentle to herself and others.

“We’re all going through this and we’re all doing the best we can,” she said.

The second move-out process finished May 10. At time of print, Housing and Residence Life staff were moving forward with a plan to have students live on campus in the fall.

“We’re focused on following public health guidelines and keeping things safe for our students and staff,” Bailey said. “Things change day-to-day because that is just the kind of time this is.”

About 250 students were approved to move on campus beginning June 19. Many of these students have on-campus jobs and as the university increases operations, they need to be physically present. They lived in single units and their assignments were spread throughout the housing system to allow for social distancing.

Bailey said she and other staff members are excited to have the small group on campus to get ready for the 6,000+ come August.

Laptop with student playing trombone
(Valerie Wojciechowski)


Before COVID-19 cases began to increase in Michigan, first-year nursing student Madeline Reitsma worked in the emergency department at Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. Returning home to Pentwater was not an option — doing so would mean putting her 15-year-old sister, who is battling cancer, at risk.

Student runs through the woods on campus
(Valerie Wojciechowski)


While on a run through the Allendale Campus, criminal justice major Jakyle Harris said he didn’t see a single person outside — a stark contrast from what campus is usually like in the spring. Although he misses family back home in Chicago, he said returning home would not have been the best for him academically.

Portrait of a student taken outside of the dorms


At 15-years-old, Renzo Garza Motta moved from Mexico to live with relatives in Michigan because he knew it would provide a better opportunity for him. Garza Motta, a junior studying electrical engineering, has family living in Mexico and Hawaii, but wanted to stay at GVSU during the pandemic to be on top of his schooling and continue working remotely.

Student reads a book in her dorm
(Amanda Pitts)


Practicing yoga, reading and journaling have helped nursing student Jacky Bowling take a moment to pause during a time when she would otherwise be busy with work, clinicals or her resident assistant responsibilities. Bowling, a senior and third-year RA, chose to stay on campus to continue working as a patient care assistant at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.

Student walks through empty arboretum
(Amanda Pitts)


The uncertainty that has come with this pandemic has been difficult for allied health sciences major Charity Foster. She has faced the uncertainty of living on campus while trying to stay connected to family members, some of whom have been diagnosed with the virus. Foster, a senior, was taking 15 credits during the Winter 2020 semester and said she knew staying on campus was better for her academically.