If there’s one lesson Carls have learned outside of the classroom these past two years, it’s that there’s no easy way to enter isolation.
Sophie Draper ’24 was a close contact of one of the eight students who falsely tested positive last February. The first indication she received of having actually contracted the virus was “wak[ing] up with a sore throat” that quickly culminated in a negative rapid test.
“I’m like, ‘there’s absolutely no way I have COVID,’ Draper recounted. “I go to class, I go hang out with my friends over midterm break… then Sunday, I wake up feeling horrible.” A trip to the testing center in Burton confirmed Draper’s worst suspicions. “I felt so guilty, like I had been a ‘plague rat’ on this campus.”
Gaby Lazo ’23 felt even worse: She contracted COVID-19 while at a dance competition in Indiana, during which she had to share a car with six others. “As soon as [the COVID-19 response team] started calling me, I started crying,” Lazo said. “It was Tuesday of Week 10… and I had just been in the car on an eight-hour road trip with six other people.”
The path to isolation for Simran Kadam ’23 was decidedly simpler, but, as her brush with the virus came before she could get vaccinated, she bore the brunt of its harsh symptoms: “Intense body aches and cough and fever and chills… I was so sad.”
The first few days of isolation were among the most difficult. “I’m a very social person, and I was also super stressed because it was tenth week, and now I couldn’t deal with stuff in my personal life,” Lazo explained. To make matters worse, “At the end of term, I found out I was going to miss Thanksgiving. I was going to be home three days afterward.” Kadam mentioned falling “very behind” in her classes, while Draper noted that “the breakfasts were the only consistently edible thing.”
However, every student interviewed was able to recall several positive memories—or, at the very least, high points—of their time in isolation. That’s because they had someone in their corner during those long ten days: Q/I Coordinator Kari Scheurer.
A staff member since 2008, Scheurer has spent the bulk of her time at Carleton as an Administrative Assistant in the Dean of Students’ Office. At the beginning of Fall Term in 2020, however, Schuerer was asked to serve as Q/I Coordinator, the staff member tasked with “coordinat[ing] students’ movement from campus to isolation housing, which includes meal delivery, checking in, getting them essential items and helping them continue life as a college student.”
Scheurer’s new position would be among the most challenging of her career: attending to quarantined students often necessitated working upwards of seven days a week; several students told The Carletonian that they were able to reach Scheurer even during holidays. “No day is typical,” Scheurer admitted, “we just take whatever comes our way.”
The most difficult portion of Scheurer’s work has varied depending on the term. In Fall Term of 2020, it was “navigating the nuances of the isolation spaces. It is somewhat challenging to have a student move into a house and then help them.”
“This term, it has been the additional roommate piece,” she continues. “While we added spaces for the anticipated surge in cases, we also knew we had to maximize space. Moving students into the same room together was not ideal, but, also, it was so great to see Carleton students accept the challenge and be so welcoming to their fellow Carls.”
In one particularly frightening episode, the furnace in Parish House—which housed 16 quarantined students—abruptly stopped working. “I spent the afternoon trying to figure out where I was going to move [everyone] to if we didn’t get it back on fast,” Scheurer recounted.
Yet Scheurer did not dwell on the difficulties of her position. In fact, she is likely the staff member best equipped for the responsibilities of Q/I Coordinator: “I believe my background in Res Life and in the Dean of Students’ Office prepared me for the adventure, as I had a good knowledge of the isolation spaces. I think my skills really align with the position well. There is a lot to troubleshoot and I tend to feel like I am quite resourceful.”
Scheurer’s work behind the scenes is plentiful—yet virtually any student who escaped the confines of isolation will bring with them at least one story of her efforts on their behalf. There are the practical favors: Lazo fondly recalls Scheurer delivering a missing phone charger, a laptop and an extra blanket, then purchasing take-out food for her and her roommate when the dining halls closed for the term. Scheurer also treats students who have to spend a full period of 10 days in isolation to a meal from Sayles or a local restaurant. However, Scheurer’s acts of generosity become even more grandiose around the holidays.
Lazo and her roommate spent most of Thanksgiving day lamenting that they could not see their families. Then they noticed the large box on the porch. “She got us a big box of, like, complete thanksgiving food. Maybe the size of a chest that somebody [might have at] the foot of their bed. It was amazing.” Scheurer returned later that night to bring them puzzles.
Months later, Scheurer brought Kadam and her roommate “Easter meals, little Easter eggs and Easter-themed gifts.” Kadam’s roommate’s birthday fell shortly afterwards, which prompted a delivery of “flowers, a gift card to the Carleton Bookstore and a cake.”
Draper and her housemates received personal Domino’s pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday and a care package for Valentine’s day afterwards, which Draper says “was very welcome because I was quite bummed about being stuck in quarantine on Valentine’s day.”
While these gifts often take their recipients by surprise, they are never unplanned. Scheurer explains, “We try to think of what students might be missing during their time isolated. Of course we do little treat bags for holidays and birthdays. We think of it sort of like programming that other student life offices do, so [we] have delivered pumpkins to paint for Halloween, sewing supplies, puzzles, paint by numbers and other activities that may help students pass the time.”
Scheurer’s diligent work has made her a heroic figure among quarantined Carls. “Knowing that there was somebody whose job it was to make sure that I did not go crazy in isolation was really sweet,” Draper says, “and you can tell that she really cares about her job and about the students in isolation.” Lazo concurred: “I think that she’s doing the job of multiple people… [and is] perfect and amazing at what she does. Especially during the surge—she’s literally a hero.”
Whether a staff member doing her best during a persistent pandemic or, as Kadam puts it, “our lifeline” Scheurer remains diligent and work-minded, reminding us that she is “more of a doer and less of a talker.” While the work is “physically exhausting at times,” she is grateful that “students have been amazingly adaptable and accepting of the situation.”
In the grand scheme of things,” Scheurer concluded, “I think the experience will help them handle future situations—maneuvering through life when life isn’t always perfect.”
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