Rochester Institute of Technology, back lawn of Liberal Arts Hall, April 20th, 2020. Except where indicated all photos by David Kramer. In background is a Henry Moore sculpture.Recently, I’ve made excursions to four mostly deserted educational campuses: a high school, a two-year college, a four-year college, university and institute. [SEE SERIES AT END]
Yesterday, I visited Rochester Institute of Technology where I had been a few weeks earlier. Then, RIT was in the process of closing after an extended spring break. As some students had not yet moved out of the dorms, compared to yesterday, I saw a fair amount of activity. I spoke with two international students — unable to return to their home countries — playing basketball.
Yesterday, in an hour stay, besides groundskeepers and security officers, I counted less than 25 people. Four or five were walking the track at the sports fields.
I met John Lowengrauth ’23 who was not asked to leave his off campus apartment. John and a group of friends were in Toronto for spring break (luckily all were safe). Upon his return, John witnessed the hectic scene of dorm dwellers packing up and moving out within a stretch of a few days. John is from Long Island where his mother is a hospital administrator. She’s had enough experience with the covid epidemic to recommend John stay in Rochester.
John is doing pretty well. As an electrical engineering student, John’s on-line classes are manageable, although he misses hashing over problem sets with his peers in the Java Wally’s cafe in the library. And a ZOOM happy hour is not the same as a fraternity or sorority bash.
Six other students live in his apartment complex; John says they are just about the only people he regularly sees on campus. Having a big refrigerator not allowed in the dorms, John survives on food runs to Wegmans. Needing to wear face protection, John dons a neon bandana he normally uses at RIT’s legendary and now cancelled Human vs. Zombies games — moderated tag played with nerf blasters.
John has noticed a few people at the basketball courts. In fact, on my return, I spotted five guys shooting hoops.
In the 2000s, I taught the Senior Seminar, the Writing Seminar and Cultural Studies at RIT, including a stint at RIT’s satellite campus, the American University of Kosovo, in Pristina, Kosovo. (see From Tirana with love. And a dash of Pristina.)
My most vivid outdoor memory was then President Albert Simone’s annual stickball game for staff, faculty and students. As I am a baseball and softball umpire, I volunteered to make calls. Even though umpires don’t use whistles, now former Associate Director of Athletics Alexander “Lex” Sleeman gave me one to blow when a runner scored. The game was played at the lot on the corner of Fox Lane and Clark Road near the Gordon Field House. Given the characteristics of the field — boulders and trees in play and a “short porch” building wall in the outfield — the game had multiple weird rules — invented by Al — that I needed to master and interpret.
For a man his age, Al swung a stickball bat with (presidential?) authority. During the game, it is possible the pitcher lobbed Al meatballs. However, viewed from my umpiring perch, the apparent meatballs may well have been an optical illusion. The opposing team — some from the Office of the President — offered encouraging cheers directed at Al perhaps slightly more than to the other players.
As Al would have demanded, I was determined to only make just calls. While Al did score several runs — celebrated with the blowing of the whistle given to me by Lex — there were no close plays at the plate, so my integrity went untested.
Before taking the full campus excursion, see some RIT people who appear in Talker.
A few years, for 70 years ago today when Jackie Robinson broke the color line at Red Wings Stadium, I needed a hard copy of a 2007 essay I had written on Robinson for About Time Magazine. Of all the local libraries, only Wallace held bound copies of the magazine (that is now only digital).Professor of Philosophy Timothy Engström took the photo outside Liberal Arts Hall. Tim explained that faculty were asked only to visit campus when necessary. I hadn’t seen Tim in many years. I learned he still rides his vintage roadster to school. He did so today, with the top down. Alas, the barber who cuts my hair and trims or shaves off my beard has shuttered his doors. On Tuesday, Democrat and Chronicle columnist Jim Memmott, “Sheltered in place, hair-cutting issues hit home: try DIY or let nature run wild?”, offers some advice on do it yourself haircuts. I’ve chosen the latter: Let Nature Run Wild.
These groundskeepers estimate between 100 – 200 mostly international students are still on campus. That Monday afternoon, I was the 5th or 6th person like myself they had seen just walking around campus. Given the circumstances, they said they were happy to still have jobs.
As with McQuaid Jesuit High School, Nazareth College and the University of Rochester, an eerie silence pervaded the campus. As with the other schools, the experience was again somewhat surreal. The afternoon felt very much like a sleepy summer sunday when many are on vacation: the libraries and eateries closed; people taking it easy. Yet, in the virtual cloud around me was a whirl of intellectual activity like any day during a hectic semester. Only I could only imagine, not see, the hum.