BU Then, and Now: Photo Essay Captures How COVID Pandemic Has Transformed Life on Comm Ave
Interactive Photo Essay
BU Then…and Now
Photo essay captures how COVID-19 pandemic has transformed life on Comm Ave
This special photo essay demonstrates the changes to BU’s Charles River and Medical Campuses wrought by COVID-19. Side-by-side images show campus landmarks before—and during—the pandemic. Photos by Cydney Scott
As a photographer for Boston University, my job is to document all aspects of life on campus. That job became markedly different after the COVID-19 pandemic forced students to switch to remote learning and most employees to work from home. Dining halls, classrooms, and popular gathering places like the George Sherman Union, Marsh Plaza, and the BU Beach were suddenly pretty empty, despite the presence of essential workers and the several hundred BU students allowed to remain on campus.
That emptiness is now an essential chapter in the University’s story, so I wanted to document it in a way that would emphasize its impact, rather than just shooting photos of empty spaces. To convey the pandemic’s impact on the University, how this historical event has transformed life on campus, I decided to pair pre-coronavirus photos—images of the University teeming with life—with photos taken in the same locations over the past few weeks.
Digital photography has many advantages, and for this project I was able to look at a photo’s embedded information to figure out what lens I’d used and the time of day I’d shot it so I could replicate as closely as possible the original image. I even brought copies of the originals on my phone to make sure I was lining up the angles with the originals as nearly as I could.
I want to thank the BU Facilities Management & Operations staff for their assistance with this project. They met me at locations like the Howard Thurman Center for Common Good, Warren Towers, and the GSU, closed because of the pandemic, so I could shoot what I needed.
Use the interactive sliders in the photographs below to move between scenes of BU’s campuses before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
THEN—May 4, 2017: Robert A. Brown, BU president, at the Class of 2017 Senior Breakfast at the GSU Ballroom.NOW—April 15, 2020: The GSU Ballroom had been transformed into a staging area for quarantine kits, with cleaning supplies, paper goods, pillows and linens, and nonperishable snacks and meals, that would be put in rooms across campus set aside for students who needed to be quarantined.
THEN—April 11, 2017: Women’s sailing club member Emily Walker (Questrom‘19) setting out from the BU Sailing Pavilion for a practice on the Charles River.
NOW—May 15, 2020: A lone Canada goose on the Charles near the BU Sailing Pavilion, where boats sit idle.
THEN—April 10, 2018: The annual Medical Campus Health Equity Symposium, held at the School of Medicine Instructional Building Hiebert Lounge, 72 E. Concord St.
NOW—April 29, 2020: An empty Hiebert Lounge.
THEN—May 1, 2018: The BU Beach is a magnet for visitors on a warm spring day.
NOW—April 29, 2020: On a nearly deserted BU Beach, Facilities workers carry on their work of tending to campus grounds.
THEN—September 4, 2018: A bustling Comm Ave as fall semester classes begin.
NOW—May 20, 2020: Foot traffic on Comm Ave lightens after Commencement, but this year it was reduced to a trickle.
THEN—March 15, 2019: On Match Day each March, fourth year medical students find out where they’ll do their assigned residency after they graduate. An obviously happy Alexis Clay (CAS’15, MED’19) (center) was among the School of Medicine soon-to-be doctors at the Hiebert Lounge celebration.
NOW—April 29, 2020: An empty Hiebert Lounge. For this year’s Match Day on March 20, MED students gathered in small groups off campus to wait for a noon email from the National Resident Matching Program.
THEN—March 19, 2019: Chess, anyone? Kenise Neal (CAS’22) (left) and Kettie Kasera (CAS’22) grabbing a bite to eat at late night campus eatery Bay State Underground.
NOW—April 29, 2020: COVID-19 closed Bay State Underground in mid-March for the duration of the spring semester.
THEN—March 31, 2019: T. Anthony’s has been a popular late-night dining destination and a fixture on campus since 1976, even at 2 am.
NOW—May 7, 2020: The pandemic has closed T. Anthony’s to all but takeout service.
THEN—Irene Alexakos (CGS’20) (from left), Emily Cobb (CAS’22), and Jacob Miner (Sargent’22) playing a round of Cards Against Humanity in Miner’s Warren Towers room.
NOW—April 15, 2020: An empty Warren Towers sixth floor room after students were told not to return to campus from spring break and BU moved all classes to remote teaching and learning.
THEN—April 11, 2019: DivestBU coleader Masha Vernik (CAS’19) speaking at a Marsh Plaza rally calling for the University to divest from companies producing fossil fuels. Marsh Plaza is a frequent gathering place for student-organized rallies and demonstrations.
NOW—April 15, 2020: An eerily quiet Marsh Plaza.
THEN—July 22, 2019: Creative writing class in BU’s legendary Room 222: Kimberly Marreros Chuco (Questrom’21) (from left), Jose Albert Orive Santamarina (COM’21), Omer Friedlander (GRS’19), a Metropolitan College lecturer, and Christopher Hembree (COM’21) in Friedlander’s class, held in the Bay State Road classroom where poet Robert Lowell is said to have taught Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath decades ago.
NOW—April 15, 2020: Room 222, 236 Bay State Rd.
THEN—September 7, 2019: Thousands of students gather on Nickerson Field for the annual student activities fair Splash.
NOW—May 7, 2020: Nickerson Field from Student Village II’s 26th floor. The field still sees the occasional visitor for a run around the track, a solitary lunch, or a solo soccer practice.
THEN—January 24, 2020: Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87) (center), BU associate provost and dean of students, leads the weekly Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground Coffee and Conversation, where students, faculty, and staff discuss the day’s headlines, trending topics, and controversial ideas. The expanded center reopened at 808 Comm Ave earlier that month.
NOW—April 29, 2020: Just two months after the Thurman Center moved into its new Commonwealth Avenue home, the pandemic closed it March 19 for the duration of the spring semester.
THEN—May 8, 2019: Theater group BU on Broadway members Madison Killay (CAS’19) (from left), Dylan Gabriel (COM’19), Isabel Weinberg (COM’19), Emma Howard (ENG’19), and Aleah Floyd (COM’19) get airborne on Nickerson Field for their friend, and photographer, Rachel Leiner (COM’20).
NOW—May 7, 2020: The Nickerson Field wall of Boston ivy wall. The wall serves as a backdrop for the annual All-University Commencement, which was postponed because of the pandemic this year, but will be held at a date still to be determined.