The U of A Campuses Look Very Different

By Stephanie Bailey, Photos by John Ulan

By Stephanie Bailey, Photos by John Ulan

Image for Post
On March 13, the U of A announced it would suspend in-person classes, two days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Almost overnight, campuses became ghost towns

How do you represent the emptiness the pandemic leaves in its wake? How do you capture a global crisis that’s characterized by an absence? This is at the heart of the photo essays compiled from around the world, and it’s the same question we posed to photographer John Ulan shortly after classes were cancelled.

By now, we’ve all seen the haunting images of how the COVID-19 pandemic has hollowed out our public spaces. The once-bustling centres of our cities became deserted seemingly overnight — from Times Square in Manhattan to the Red Square in Moscow. Each suddenly solitary site has its own story to tell. And the U of A campuses are no exception.

Image for Post
The iconic Convocation Hall, almost forgotten behind a shroud of trees.

The eerie emptiness of our university endures even as public health measures in the province begin to ease. Nowhere is this lack more noticeable than on Quad — our own version of a town square. And at no other time is it more palpable than right now — when convocation ceremonies would be otherwise imbuing our campus with an infectious energy. Now you have to go online to find that energy. Where normally you’d find groups of graduates posing against the backdrop of iconic buildings, nowadays you’re much more likely to find wildlife roaming around unperturbed.

Image for Post
The warmer weather usually means droves of students pouring into Quad to toss around a frisbee or enjoy an impromptu picnic during a study break. This spring, the grassy expanse remains vacant.
Image for Post
The bus loop on North Campus.
Image for Post
Image for Post
The Students’ Union Building would normally have been brimming with students studying for final exams.
Image for Post
A student with a bag full of laundry walks through a deserted HUB mall. On March 20, the university asked students living in residence to return home if able, and relocated remaining residents to support physical distancing measures.
Image for Post
Image for Post
A vacant cafe and theatre at Campus Saint-Jean act as a solemn reminder of how much has been cancelled and postponed.

The photos on this page explore the idea of what a campus is without its faculty, staff, and students. What we see reflected here suggests campus is much more than a geographical space or a collection of buildings. It’s a place whose lifeblood is our daily interactions, our personal memories, our mental associations.

Image for Post
A glimpse of what the new normal may look like as students, faculty, and staff eventually return to campus.

As I look at these photos now, I think of all the things we have lost so far due to the pandemic, and I come to realize that I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half months in mourning. Grateful to be working from home, I still grieve the loss of the carefree sense of community, the unspoken bond between strangers and the spontaneous coming-together that our campuses make possible. It’s not what these photos capture that moves me, it’s precisely what they don’t: all these things that this virus has taken from us.

Image for Post
Without the throngs of people rushing between classes, a solo student is free to forge her own path across an abandoned Quad.
Image for Post
“Old Main” remains constant even as the rest of Augustana campus is transformed without its students.

Convocation looks completely different this year, but one thing remains the same: that unique blend of sorrowful goodbyes and anticipation that pervades the air. As a U of A grad myself, it’s a feeling that June always triggers in me. It’s a sense of loss as you end an important chapter, coupled with the anxiety that comes with confronting the unknown. It’s that same bittersweet feeling that we see come to life in these images. The feeling that Things Will Never Be the Same Again.

Image for Post
The shadow of a student looms large on an isolated walkway outside the North Power Plant. On May 14, the university announced that it will continue to deliver the majority of classes remotely.

The Spring 2020 issue of New Trail magazine includes stories on the university’s response to COVID-19 and how to activate hope in your lifeuniversity’s response to COVID-19 and how to activate hope in your life.