With his family in India and friends scattered around the globe, Moiz Rajwani will always treasure the support he received from his Western family in his home away from home.
Rajwani – who will enter his third year of philosophy, politics and economics in the fall – hasn’t been back to India since he originally started classes at Western. He had planned to surprise his parents after exams this year with a month-long visit home.
Then COVID-19 complicated international travel. Borders tightened. International flights vanished. Life changed.
As residence council president at Perth Hall, Rajwani watched as many year-end rituals were cancelled. Then people packed up and left campus. There were no hugs goodbye because of physical distancing.
“From an individual perspective, I understood people had to go home. It was about safety. But from a residence council perspective, it was just like, ‘Whoa, what just blew up?’”
At Western, residence has provided safe harbour for a handful of students who have remained on campus by choice or because travel restrictions made it impossible to return home.
About 500 students initially remained in residence after most other university operations continued virtually in mid-March. Today, students number about 200 in two residences, with each resident in a single bedroom with a private bathroom and kitchenette.
Despite physical distancing measures, residence staff recognize the importance of staying connected with students.
“Many of our international students have not seen their loved ones since the December break, and some even as far back as August,” said Chris Alleyne, Associate Vice-President (Housing & Ancillary Services).
“It’s so important for our front-line staff – our front desk clerks, dining hall workers, and residence caretakers – to continue to take care of our students. They do an incredible job in learning students’ names, asking how they’re doing, and projecting hope to our students in these uncertain times.”
Jim Weese, Acting Associate Vice-Provost (International), said the university continues to reach out and support International students.
“We appreciate the compassion and support of our campus and broader communities in helping students during this challenging time,” he said. “Our government leaders have provided incredible levels of support. However, we are mindful of the fact that our international students are not eligible for most support programs and many are struggling with isolation, financial concerns, and other stressful circumstances.”
While remaining in Canada was a necessity for Rajwani, remaining in residence was a welcome choice. “In terms of taking care of us, the residences have been super-supportive,” he said.
“The people at the front desk are like our caretakers, like our mothers. Every time I go down to get food, they are lovely. They’re just smiling. They just bring out the life in you. It doesn’t feel like there’s a pandemic going on.”
Yet, there is a pandemic. And residences have taken numerous precautions: Hand-sanitizing stations are available everywhere. Security staff members make the rounds regularly. Cleaners sanitize the facilities constantly.
“From the front staff, to the caretakers, to hospitality people, everybody’s playing a role,” Rajwani said. “In terms of adapting to the situation, they’ve done a fantastic job.”
For Rajwani, the year has been overwhelmingly positive, a confirmation that coming to Western was the right choice.
“I’m really fond of the way Canada embraces diversity and pluralism,” he said. “I applied to a lot of Canadian schools; Western was the only school that had the program and structure I wanted. Then I spoke to one of my friends who said, ‘You should totally come to Western. It will be so much more memorable.’”
While Rajwani has chosen to live off-campus for the summer, he will be working as a student project assistant for the orientation program and will return to residence this fall as an academic program leader.
He has been involved in residence life almost since the first day he arrived.
“As soon as I came, I saw all this energy that these sophs had. Since Day One, I was like, ‘Wow, what a culture.’ That attracted me towards getting involved.” he said.
“I’ve never looked back. It has been an experience that’s so dear to me. It has helped make my experience so memorable that I’ve tried to do everything possible in my capacity to do the same for the incoming students next year.”
Rajwani also continues to stay connected with younger students he met in residence. “I try to text them, to know how they’re feeling, if they’re home safe, if they’re fine. We didn’t get to say those goodbyes.”