Students find ways to make a solitary Thanksgiving feel less lonely

By Lauren Leazenby, News Editor

Vicki Lei

Senior film major Nick Madison said he faced a tough decision in making his Thanksgiving plans: Should he stay or should he go?

Ultimately, Madison will spend the holiday in his dorm on campus, but said he felt neither of his choices were great options. On one hand, Madison said he will miss his family and their traditions back in Omaha, Nebraska, but on the other, he wants to be in a space where he can do his coursework in peace.

“I agonized over it,” Madison said. “From what I understood, my two options were, basically, I stay here and I don’t quarantine, or I go home and really would just stay at home.”

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, some students are feeling trapped by their options. In the U.S., more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases were reported during the last week alone, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended Americans stay home this holiday and refrain from having large gatherings.

Due to precautions like these, Madison said most of his extended family will not be gathering as usual back home. Traditionally, he and his family would eat a Thanksgiving dinner and go see a movie together—but with COVID-19 closures in place, Madison said he was unsure if that part of their tradition would still stand.

Due to Chicago’s Emergency Travel Order, film and television major Kyra Jones said she would have to self-quarantine upon her return if she were to visit her family in Indianapolis. Jones said she does not want that kind of interruption to her studies.

“The environment of being in school actually helps me focus on my schoolwork,” she said. “If I did go home, I wouldn’t be able to come back for two weeks.”

So, Jones, a freshman, will spend her first Thanksgiving in college on campus—but not necessarily alone. One of her friends is also staying in place for the holiday, and they plan to stick out the rest of the semester on campus together, she said.

To feel connected to family, Jones said she will call her parents and grandparents on Thanksgiving Day. She has also signed up for the Thanksgiving meal offered by Residence Life.

“I think it’s great that [Residence Life] is doing it because, staying here, we obviously won’t have that Thanksgiving meal,” Jones said. “It still makes some normalcy.”

Kelli Collins, director of Resident Education, said 300 students have signed up for the meal, which will consist of traditional Thanksgiving foods. Residence Life will deliver meals to RAs to distribute to residents in a socially distanced fashion. Students in quarantine or isolation will also get the Thanksgiving meal.

But COVID-19 isn’t the only reason some students will celebrate the holiday on their own. Freshman acting and creative writing double major Jacob Cabrera said he would not spend Thanksgiving in Aurora, Illinois, regardless of the global pandemic. Family issues at home will keep him on campus as well.

“It was a tough decision,” Cabrera said. “I had to think about myself. I had to think about what I needed and what I should do. And it was very difficult to break it to [my family] and say, ‘I’m not going to be there for Thanksgiving.’”

Instead, Cabrera said he is going to make the holiday one of self-care where he can read, write, meditate and relax. He said it will be like another normal day, but he might make a special meal—homemade pizza or desserts.

Going forward, Cabrera said he is going to cultivate his own traditions around the holiday.

“This might be the first Thanksgiving where I start to develop my own Thanksgiving traditions that I do by myself,” Cabrera said. “If you don’t have family, or if you have family but don’t want to see them … there are ways of making Thanksgiving special.”