RIVER FALLS, Wis.-- Lauren DeRosier was enjoying everything about her first year at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, including dorm life in Stratton Hall.

“There’s nothing like it really,” she said.

But when the university closed its residence halls just before spring break in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DeRosier had a feeling she wouldn’t be back.

“I just kind of knew,” she said. “I thought, no way is it going to be safer in two months than it is right now. I told my roommate, ‘I don’t know if we’re coming back.’ So I took all my clothes and a lot of stuff. But there’s still a lot of stuff left.”

DeRosier was among a limited number of students allowed back into Stratton Hall Saturday, May 9, to gather up the rest of her belongings. She and her mom Janet had two hours to take down the pictures, pack up the bedding, box up the TV and grab everything else left in her room back on March 13 before returning home to Brooklyn Center, Minn.

The university started moving students out of its residence halls last Wednesday, May 6. Grimm, Crabtree, Hathorn and half of Stratton Hall were opened to students at scheduled time slots Wednesday through Sunday. Parker, McMillan, Prucha, Johnson and the other half of Stratton will be available this Wednesday through Sunday.

All proper protocols are in place for the move, including limiting the number of people in each building at one time, providing plenty of space for parked vehicles outside the residence halls, hand sanitizer on site, and UWRF staff and volunteers wearing masks and gloves.

UW-River Falls sophomore Brook Kabara of Whitefish Bay, Wis. returns the last of her textbooks in Stratton Hall Saturday, May 9 before making the long drive home with her father Tom. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
UW-River Falls sophomore Brook Kabara of Whitefish Bay, Wis. returns the last of her textbooks in Stratton Hall Saturday, May 9 before making the long drive home with her father Tom. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

UWRF Director of Residence Life Karla Thoennes said over the two weeks the university will facilitate move out for 1,600 students.

Sophomores Sierra Jossart and Brooke Kabara, drove together from Whitefish Bay Saturday to collect their belongings.

“I left most of my winter clothes because I didn’t think I’d need them back home,” Jossart said.

Like all UWRF students, Jossart, an Animal Science Pre-veterinary major, and Kabara, an Animal Science-Equine major, continued their studies online while in-person classes were suspended. But they both said it has been challenging in their chosen fields of study.

“I was in the advanced horsemanship class so unfortunately I didn’t get to finish because we rode twice a week at Lab farm 1,” Kabara noted. “It’s hard to ride a horse online.”

DeRosier said she didn’t like online classes either.

“I really like person-to-person, where I can ask my professor stuff and talk to them and get to know them,” she said. “It’s hard to do that over email.”

Right now, DeRosier, Jossart and Kabara aren’t sure when they’ll be back for classes. UW System President Ray Cross announced April 30 the formation of a ‘Plan Ahead Team’ that will review practices and criteria for in-person instruction in the fall. He said the UW System’s Emergency Operations Center will coordinate recommendations for fall operations while keeping student and employee health and safety at the forefront, and will use guidance from public health officials to form their decisions.

Jossart said she hopes it will be safe to return in the fall.

“A lot of the classes I have to take are hands-on, working with animals, and if we don’t come back I can’t do that obviously,” she said. “I guess I’d be a little concerned because we’d all be coming from different areas. Right now Milwaukee County has a ton of cases compared to where one of my friends lives way up north. That’s a little bit of a concern because we are all coming from different areas.”

DeRosier, the freshman, also wants to be back. She hasn’t seen her roommate in two months.

“She’s actually coming later today and I’m going to wait around so I can see her,” she said.

Janet DeRosier is also hoping her daughter can return, if for no other reason than to continue to enjoy the college experience.

“Especially since she and her roommate get along so fabulously,” Janet said. “They were sad to separate. It has made her first year phenomenal and she’s really enjoyed being here. Her whole experience here has been a great one for her freshman year.”’