Aaron Ceceñas sat alone at a chrome-colored table outside of the Student Residence Center (SRC) March 21. He was waiting for his parents to get him and all his stuff packed neatly in a cardboard box to his right.
Like dozens of other students, Ceceñas was using what will likely be his last Saturday on campus to move out.
“And this is my last year too,” he told the Daily Lobo. ”Coming from a senior’s perspective, cause I was gonna…”
Ceceñas parents arrived that moment, pulling his attention away. He motioned for them to park between two cars in front of La Posada Dining Hall, the impromptu parking lot normally used at the beginning and end of the school year.
Ceceñas’ parents drove down from Roswell. That’s where Ceceñas will spend his final eight weeks of college.
On the Saturday before the University of New Mexico’s mandated exodus, dozens of students, including Ceceñas, began moving out. They have until March 24 to vacate, an aggressive decision UNM administrators hope will slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As of March 21, there were 57 cases of the disease COVID-19, according to the governor's office. Of that 57, the state said 32 were in Bernalillo County. The ever-growing rise in cases accompanies an abundance of shutdowns, including the dorms and in-person classes at UNM.
“It sucks, I didn’t really get that goodbye with my coworkers. At my job, it’s a really close-knit community. I was close with the students who went there, the faculty, everybody,” Ceceñas said.
Ceceñas worked at El Centro de la Raza, UNM’s resource center for Hispanic and Latino students. He studies political science, something he’s not looking forward to learning online.
Despite his own situation, Ceceñas said he was more worried about students who have no home to go back to. He said his friend, an international student from The Marshall Islands, went to Texas for spring break. Ceceñas said he hasn’t been able to get a hold of his friend and he’s not sure why.
“I know most of it is out of UNM’s control and I know it's not really a thing they can change,” he said. “I think that the length for (moving out) was too short for some students.”
Ceceñas said that he wished UNM had given him and other students more notice, especially regarding eviction exceptions.
Ethan Parsons, who works the SRC front desk, was one of the few students to receive an exception.
Parsons said he was granted one of the limited exceptions because he couldn’t go back to his home state of California. It’s one of five states with shelter-in-place standing orders, effectively restricting residents from leaving their homes.
According to Residence Life Assistant Director Megan Chibanga, eviction exceptions would only be granted to students that really had nowhere else to go, like Parsons — and had to be turned in by Friday.
Parsons, who was working the front desk on Saturday, acknowledged that many students were unhappy with having to leave, but felt like everyone he spoke with understood it was necessary.
Ira Atencio agreed.
Atencio was moving his son and daughter out of the dorms. He said they would stay with him and his wife in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“It’s inconvenient, but it's deemed a necessity,” Atencio said. “I mean, we don’t want any of you guys to get sick, you know, and play Monday morning quarterback and say ‘oh well they should have done X, Y and Z.’”
Atencio said he was a contractor for the Department of Defence. He said he spent last week working from home but would start intermittently returning to work next week.
“If it happens to me, big deal,” Atencio said. “But you guys are young, so.”
For students who could move out before the March 24 deadline, UNM Residence Life said they could make special arrangements later. But it’s unclear what will happen to the empty dorms for the rest of the semester.
Some, online, have speculated they could be turned into emergency clinics to house infected patients if UNM Hospital became overwhelmed.
Justin Garcia is the Editor in Chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Just516garc