Here’s how colleges across Chicago are preparing for the school year

Large lecture halls, packed libraries and bustling dining halls won’t be the reality this year for local colleges. Instead, many facilities will be closed or reorganized to encourage social distancing. Schools such as DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago all have extensive pages dedicated […]

Large lecture halls, packed libraries and bustling dining halls won’t be the reality this year for local colleges. Instead, many facilities will be closed or reorganized to encourage social distancing.

Schools such as DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago all have extensive pages dedicated to various aspects of campus life and how it will be different. For students who are still heading to campus, here’s a general breakdown of what you can expect.

Residential life

Students heading to campus this fall won’t be in bunk beds with roommates. Students won’t be required to live on campus. DePaul is closing dorms that offer double, triple or quad-style living and communal bathrooms. At Northwestern University, there will still be community bathrooms, but there will be fewer students assigned to each one, and the facilities will be cleaned more often than in the past.

Depending on how many students usually live on campus at each university, housing will look different. At UIC, for example, there will be no more than two to a room. Students at the university can choose if they want to live alone or with another person. If a student lives alone, they’ll have to pay the full price of a double.

Northeastern Illinois University has only one residence hall, which is organized suite-style. Only one or two people will live in each unit, instead of the three or four seen in previous years. Common spaces have been reorganized to encourage less socialization by taking out furniture.

“We have expectations of them to follow the public health measures that the university is following. Our expectations for them is to stay safe and healthy and monitor their own health and be honest if they’re having symptoms,” said Sharon Heimbaugh, director of student health services and co-chair of the university’s COVID-19 task force.

Loyola will not have students on campus this fall.


Dining halls have been closed or reorganized for social distancing. At UIC and Northeastern, residents have grab-and-go meals that they will take back to their rooms to eat.

At DePaul and Northwestern, the dining halls will have limited capacity but stay open. Northwestern will assign students to a “home dining hall” for all their meals and will also have mobile ordering to reduce wait time for food.


Even if students attend classes in person, they won’t be packed into large lecture halls like in years past. Colleges are working to make as many classes online as possible. Certain classes that can’t be done at home, like labs or research courses, have to be in person.

At Roosevelt University, Jamar Orr, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, said the school has made sure students will keep their distance. Teachers will be given face shields and classrooms will be limited to one-third of their capacity. Students will be split up into smaller groups than usual, meeting in person only half the time.

“Say you have two class sections. One group will come in on Tuesday but will be online Thursday. Another group will be online Tuesday and come in Thursday. And then that setup will also alternate week to week,” Orr said.

For new students at UIC, if they want the on-campus experience, the university will schedule at least one class that’s in person, said J. Rex Tolliver, vice chancellor for student affairs.


Students won’t be able to attend sporting events this fall. For athletes, accessing practice and training facilities depends on the school. At Roosevelt University, training and practice facilities are still closed since competitive sports at the school have been postponed until October.

At Big Ten schools like Northwestern, the decision on whether to have a fall season is still up in the air. Officials are still discussing their options but have made no formal announcements yet. Meanwhile, some athletes are weighing in with the #WeWantToPlay hashtag.


Most university libraries are open with new social distancing protocols and safety measures.

Greek life

Many local schools do not have housing for fraternity and sorority life. For those who do, like Northwestern, students involved in Greek life will have to refer to their housing managers for what living in sororities and fraternities will look like. Housing will be open, but whether students need to live in sorority or fraternity housing depends on their specific organization.

At Loyola, which doesn’t have on-campus housing for Greek life, recruitment will take place online. “Our students have an even stronger desire to be connected to their peers as a result of the online environment,” said Marissa Lucchesi, director of student activities and Greek affairs.“I think Greek life is actually going to come out on top with all of this.”

Clubs and activities

With students spread across the country instead of on campus, social gatherings for clubs will take place online. “The biggest challenge for young people is to practice social distancing, because I think part of being in college is the socialization and hanging out with your friends,” Heimbaugh said.

At Loyola, student events and activities have already transitioned to online engagement. “We met students where they were at — on social media,” Lucchesi said. “So this summer, we had some really great contests on TikTok, and we did a lot of programming on Instagram Live. So we’re going to continue to manage our programming and events in the same way.”

Getting sick on campus

If a student or their roommate feels sick or is afraid they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, colleges have safety protocols in place for quarantining and testing.

Northwestern requires students who are going to the Evanston campus to self-isolate before interacting with others in a “Wildcat Wellness” period from Sept. 6 to 20.

At UIC, one of the residence halls has been turned into quarantine housing, where students will move to isolate from other students. Roosevelt has a similar setup, with floors within residence halls dedicated to quarantining students.

Most campuses will have COVID-19 testing on-site for students, faculty and staff.

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Twitter @milan_polk


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