“There’s no one here. There’s seriously not,” said Kimberly Simmons, a 19-year-old rising sophomore.
Simmons and sorority sisters Rosie Perez and Ashley Smith had stopped into the Theron Montgomery Building, the university’s student commons, to grab lunch at the food court Thursday. In a spot that Simmons described as full of students at all hours of the day during the school year, the trio had no trouble grabbing a place to sit; no more than three of the tables were occupied.
Scenes such as this are common for JSU students who stick around campus for the summer while the majority of their peers pack up and head out of Jacksonville after spring classes end in April. JSU officials this week could not provide summer enrollment data, but it’s clear the numbers are far fewer than the regular academic year, when enrollment exceeds 9,000. For those who do remain in the summer months, parking is a breeze, there’s no wait for exercise equipment in Stephenson Hall and it’s easy to concentrate on their classwork. But the echoing hallways and empty quad can leave some students, like Simmons, longing for absent friends and searching, sometimes unsuccessfully, for summer fun.
Simmons and her sisters said their sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, provides plenty to do during the school year: philanthropy events, football games, and just the everyday hanging out with their sisters, most of whom, said Simmons, aren’t around during the summer.
It’s been easier for Simmons to stay in her apartment at The Grove rather than move her stuff home and then right back in the fall, but the limited social life gets old. Although her apartment complex has a pool that becomes one of the major summer destinations for students, she said hanging by the pool gets boring after a couple of days.
“Unless you get someone to come down to visit,” she said. “There’s nobody here.” And that’s exactly what Perez and Smith had done this week: driven in from Fort Payne and Rainsville, respectively, to hang out with Simmons.
During the school year, Perez said while sitting in the commons food court, she and her friends sometimes head to Gadsden or Oxford to find off-campus entertainment. “They actually have stuff to do,” said Simmons, pointing out options for movie theaters, bowling alleys and more sit-down restaurants.
Two floors up, Jade Wagner was sitting in her Student Life office in the TMB, ready to head across the empty quad to greet incoming students and recruit them into student government at Thursday’s orientation. As vice president of the student Senate, Wagner said she is required to be on campus during the summer as part of her student government duties.
Normally a resident of a sorority hall in Stadium Towers, the 19-year-old Decatur resident has rented a house with friends for the summer. During the year, she said, even her living situation is social — the kind of environment where she and her sorority sisters constantly walk across the hall to visit or borrow shoes. But now when her day is over, on a social evening, she cooks dinner with friends, watches some TV and plays with her cat, Mu.
Wagner said the university doesn’t normally plan things for summer because there aren’t many students on campus. But even though the campus clears out after spring classes end, most are ready to come back long before they resume in the fall.
“After May, most people are ready to come back,” Wagner said, “but summer housing is expensive and a lot of people can’t afford it.” Students living in campus housing this summer pay $640 per four-week term.
Wagner, who took a class during the May summer session, is finished with academics for the summer. She’s using the time she has now to work and save up some money, something she said is common among students who stick around Jacksonville.
The most bustling building on campus Wednesday afternoon was Stephenson Hall, which houses the university’s fitness facilities. “Everybody’s working out, trying to get that summer body,” Wagner observed Thursday.
Trenton Primus was there to hit the court Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s very limited down here, but you’ve got to find stuff to do,” said the junior from Cartersville, Ga. “I come play basketball, work out and hang out with the limited friends that’s here.”
When he’s not in Stephenson, Primus is working in the cafeteria or attending class on campus. “It’s really easy to concentrate on your classes and stuff,” he said, “since there’s nothing to do during the summer.”
The student exodus hits home in the city’s downtown as well. Sandy Knight, one of the owners of Wake and Bake Pizza and Coffee Company, said the vast majority of her business comes from student traffic. “We are not half as busy as we are during school,” she said. “It is definitely a very different town during the summer.”
During her first summer in business, Knight has discovered a shift in the shop’s busiest hours.
Over the course of the school year, Wake and Bake sees a strong late lunch and pre-closing crowd. Now the shop sees more customers in the morning and traditional lunch hours, which Knight attributes to local high school students who are out for the summer and a few loyal local families.
Knight, a 2007 JSU graduate, is familiar with the summer doldrums from the student perspective. The one summer she spent on campus helping with the theater program was far from exciting.
“There was absolutely nothing to do,” she said. Knight said she and her fellow summer students spent a lot of time in and around the normally bustling Stone Center, which houses the English, history, foreign language and drama departments. “We sat in the tree outside of Stone Center a lot,” she said. “I took many a nap on the concrete in front of the park bench (there).”
When they tired of lounging around Stone Center, Knight and her friends found ways to make their own fun. “We spent a lot of time on Forney Street doing things like having Sharpie duels,” she said, explaining that she and her friends wore white T-shirts and went at each other with permanent markers as if in a knife fight.
“We entertained ourselves, that’s what we did,” she said. “It’s like a four-year-old with Legos, only you’re kind of grown-ups and we didn’t have anything to do.”
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.