When the class of 2024 committed to attending USF this past spring, they did so under the impression that they would be on campus. Yet, as the pandemic raged on, it became clear that this would no longer be the case.
The first-year class was thrust into “Zoom University,” holding onto the hope of moving to San Francisco once the pandemic subsided. However, many members of the class of 2024 decided to speed up this process, relocating to San Francisco for the spring semester, despite classes still being held exclusively online.
Hannah Lehmkuhl, a first-year environmental studies major, moved from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco at the beginning of January. “It was a dramatic change to go from complete quarantine and isolation in my childhood home to living in the middle of San Francisco in an apartment I’d only seen pictures of with people I had never met before,” Lehmkuhl said. “It was hard to rationalize going through with the decision that I knew had the potential to bring me so much joy, but also so much uncertainty.”
Many freshmen relocated to San Francisco without an established support system in the city, so they made use of the resources they did have at their disposal, namely, Off-Campus Student Services (OCSS). Andrea Rocha, the associate director of OCSS, said that she has seen a drastic increase in first-year students using their services.
“I didn’t think we’d have a lot of first-years moving here, to be honest. I thought they would just keep living at home,” Rocha said. “What I found with my interactions were that the first-years were quite adamant about wanting to live in SF and start their time away from home. This has led to students reaching out via classes and living together without really knowing one another, other than virtually.”
The lack of an in-person connection prior to signing leases is the norm for these students.
“It’s a little daunting to ask someone that you’ve never met to move in with you. I think that is the weirdest thing about this whole process — on-campus or off-campus — you really don’t know if you’ll vibe with the person you’ve been talking with online,” first-year performing arts and social justice major Audrey Walker said. “I can remember back to the Facebook class of 2024 group where the scramble to find a roommate for dorms began, it felt like online dating. Sometimes you’d be talking to someone for a week sussing out whether or not to make the first move and then come to find out they had already committed to someone else!”
Just as students had hesitations about the move, so did their parents. Freshman communication studies major Thelma Ibe noted that, at first, her mother did not approve of her moving cross-country from Maryland to the Bay Area this semester. “Being the only child, it was really hard to get her to agree with it,” Ibe said. “When I first moved, it was a bit emotional for both of us. But I feel like now that we’re settled in, everything’s okay.”
Given all of the logistical challenges and health risks present in moving to an unfamiliar city during a pandemic, one might wonder why some freshmen decided to move in the first place. One contributing factor could be declining rent prices.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, there has been a 20.7% decline in rent prices in San Francisco over the past year. Rocha confirmed this data and said that many owners of cohabitation living spaces “that used to cater to tech populations are now coming to me asking to promo them to our students. Before the pandemic, they were not interested in college students as clients and that’s since changed.”
The housing market in the Bay Area is shifting in students’ favor, and freshmen are taking full advantage of it. First-year environmental studies major Chloe Jones-Livingstone said, “I’m grateful to have a roommate that is in the same boat as me. My roommate and I have been figuring out how to deal with any new responsibilities together, which has been very nice.”
Despite how the pandemic has changed everyone’s plans, these first-years are embracing a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” as Ibe put it, to start their adult lives in San Francisco.
Megan Robertson is a freshman media studies and performing arts & social justice double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @megrrobertson.