By Jillian Kirkham
Every year comes with its own challenges, and this year has been no exception. Resident directors and resident assistants alike have had to rigorously change their routines and how they run the dorm buildings in light of COVID-19.
What used to be a home with community and close-knit friends and family is now less and less inviting every day. Still, the resident directors and resident assistants are doing all that they can to make things as seamless and normal as possible for everyone involved.
“COVID-19 has inverted our hierarchy triangle [of priorities],” Sarah Gregory-Shafer, the resident director of Blossom and Heritage halls, said. “Normally we would encourage students to grow with themselves and with friends, and to gather together and find their families. Now what we do is discourage those things and ask students especially to refrain from hosting big meetings or gatherings.”
“The pandemic has heightened people’s anxiety from localized situations to more of a global fear,” Logan Hansen, resident director of DeVol hall, said as he reflected Gregory-Shafer’s concerns. “What we’re seeing now is that students are displaying more feelings of loneliness and depression than we’ve ever seen before.”
Gregory-Shafer and Hansen both admitted the resident directors are having a tough time as well. Not being able to meet in larger groups and having to adjust what they can and cannot promote socially in their dorm buildings has been hard on them.
“It’s a lot more scaled back than it used to be… multiple resident directors have had to quarantine at different times, more than once, which makes getting together hard in and of itself,” Hansen said.
“Amidst the negatives there are a lot of positives too,” Gregory-Shafer said. “COVID-19 has sparked a lot of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in order to remain inclusive and all around involved.”
Resident assistants in all of the dorm halls have made it their mission this year to find every way imaginable to host events. From Zoom meetings to small gatherings, and even to taking shifts with people on their floors, they’ve put a lot of energy into their work.
“I never imagined that a tedious cleaning schedule would need to be built into the resident assistant program, let alone taking over meal deliveries, but every member of my team has been extremely gracious and ready to act,” Gregory-Shafer said.
“[I hate] having to enforce the mask rule, especially when walking through the hallways of [my] own dorm building,” Brittany Knoch, senior exercise science major and resident assistant, said. “A lot of the girls in Blossom, and I imagine students in other dorms as well, view this as their home and nobody wants to have to wear a mask around the house.”
Normal events around the dorm halls have been cancelled. Blossom usually hosts a Thanksgiving dinner that never happened. Woolman, Whittier and Fox also cancelled a beginning of the year event, which took its toll on the girls there as well.
“It was easier at the beginning of the year, because we could just host outside and have plenty of distance,” Hansen said. “With new weather conditions it’s harder, but not impossible.”
As Hansen suggested, not all events have been cancelled. The “Blossom Babes,” as Knoch refers to them, had a brick painting event outside at the beginning of the year. Woolman, Whittier and Fox canceled a fall event, but replaced it with “cereal killer night;” a mini-party where they passed out cereal and watched a movie, one of Quintessa Vizzini’s, a sophomore life science major and resident assistant, favorite alternatives.
Vizzini’s first year as a resident assistant has been a roller coaster, but she found happiness where it mattered, and in a most peculiar way.
“One event I really hope we keep around in the future is staff trash night. It’s where we take the trash in the building out for the custodial crew. It was meant to help them, and turned into a really fun time for us,” Vizzini said proudly.
“I was concerned coming into the fall semester that things would be so different and I wouldn’t recognize a place I’ve called home for three years, but being together and learning together has not changed,” Catherine Martinez, a fine arts and creative writing double major, resident assistant, and one of Vizzini’s mentors, said.
It goes without saying that the residence life staff has gone above and beyond to make sure the school year is as welcoming as it has ever been. A job that used to be behind the scenes has brought all of the heroes out of the woodwork. They’ve done a wonderful job of caring for the campus community, and life during COVID-19 wouldn’t be the same without them!