Students people-watch, check e-mail on campus quads

By Kimberly Drelich

With spring temperatures finally returning to Hyde Park, many students are taking advantage of the weather to sun themselves on the quads. Though few took advantage of the wireless internet connection that stretches over the quads during the winter, now many students are engaging in two of their favorite activities simultaneously: people-watching and checking their e-mail.

Checking e-mail on the quads has become a part of some students’ everyday routine. “I bring my laptop to campus every day,” said Abigail Kaboth, a third-year in the College. “When it’s nice out, I eat lunch outside and check my e-mail before going to my afternoon class.”

The wireless connection on the quads may offer the perfect compromise for students unwilling to completely abandon their work for springtime leisure. “It’s nice to be able to use your computer outside so you’re not inside all day in a windowless room hooked up to your computer,” said Emily Bosakowski, a first-year in the College.

While some use wireless on the quads to check e-mail, others are pursuing more serious work, like Ph.D. dissertations. Clif Emery, a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in the School of Social Service Administration and a Masters in statistics, has looked up files for his professors when he was a research assistant and done research for his dissertation while outside on the quads.

“You have to do a lot of work at U of C, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in a dungeon all day,” said Emery. “My own opinion is that we—in particular white-collar academics—spend too much time in boxes. It’s not healthy to spend that much time indoors, a claim which I could probably support with evidence about Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Ryan Naughton, a first-year in the College, was hoping to listen to iTunes while relaxing and doing math homework on the quads, but found that the wireless network has some limitations. “There’s no signal in the middle of the quad or it drops off,” said Naughton, demonstrating that his song only played for 17 seconds before the signal faded.

Networking Services and Information Technologies (NSIT) intended for the wireless signal to reach outdoors from the buildings onto the quads, but there is no current plan to improve the wireless connection outside, according to Greg Jackson, vice president and chief information officer of the University. Wireless first became accessible on the Bartlett Quad two years ago and the last update was a year ago, Jackson said.

Some students fear that having wireless internet on the quads may take away from more important activities—such as people-watching. “People-watching is about being in the moment. If you can get on the Internet, nothing about being on that park bench keeps you in that moment,” said Matt Patton, a graduate student in social psychology, as he kicked back on the benches on Bartlett Quad. “Social energy is a ubiquitous force—we often underestimate its effect on us,” he said.

Students who prefer to keep their computers indoors have found that people-watching, either while talking to friends or trying to read, is entertainment enough. “I go out to the quads to study, but I end up just talking and socializing,” said Alysa Bernal, a second-year in the College. “The other day, I saw my friend making funny gestures while looking at something on the quad. I was cracking up, so I had to walk up to him and ask what he was doing.”

Despite intentions to study in the spring weather, some students find that the plethora of people on the quads proves to be distracting. “I like to sit out here and read and sometimes I take a break and watch people walk by,” said Alejandra Ocasio, a first-year in the College, while sitting on the benches on the Bartlett quad. “People walking or playing Frisbee catches my eye, maybe I’ll see a few friends by the library—I tend to get distracted.”

“Once in a while you’ll get thrown a curve ball. You’ll be reading a book and then all of the sudden someone might be doing something weird and it kind of catches you off guard,” said Vanessa Smith, a second-year in the College, who said she hangs out on the quads close to every day. “You sometimes see weird costumes. Earlier we saw two people in eccentric black and white costumes with cones,” she said. “I don’t want to hold judgment—I just enjoy the changing scenery of people.”

Others were happy to share exactly why they think people-watching at the University is intriguing. “There’s not a lot of eye candy, but they’re at least interesting,” said Will Duke, a second-year in the College. “For me, what’s interesting is all these people that are independent-minded—and that we have to build a community based on reclusive bookworms.”

Whether people stay on the quads to use wireless or to people-watch, the presence of people hanging out in the nice weather can be comforting to some, like second-year Jung Woo Koh. “When I see people just sitting around on the quad, it gives me some sort of relaxation. It’s good—I think that’s what college is supposed to be,” he said.