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Residential Life Staff, Students Contribute to Successful On-Campus Experience

Purdue University Multicultural Connections

It is not typical for a resident assistant to change residence halls during the school year, but March was not a typical time on the campus of Purdue University.

 

Haleigh Meny, a resident assistant in Owen Hall, was one of approximately 1,200 students who elected to remain on campus to complete their studies after classes moved online for the remainder of the spring semester. Meny was one of the resident assistants selected to continue RA duties to assist and lead the students remaining in the residence halls. The result was a move from Owen Hall to Honors College and Residents North as students were relocated to residence halls that could better support privacy and social distancing.

The transition from Owen to Honors and social distancing requirements meant an adjustment in how Meny could connect with the 20 residents she was tasked with supervising, but she was committed to making sure social connections could still take place. In addition to digital meetings, conversations and events, Meny offered opportunities for her new residents to connect with her individually, of which several students took advantage. She says offering these opportunities was important for students who may have been feeling isolated or stressed about the transition to online learning.

“Connecting with your friends, seeing people and seeing your family is important to mental health,” says Meny, now a junior who has returned to RA duties in Owen Hall. “A lot of people can’t see their family and friends and that can just be really hard to deal with. You’re dealing with all of these changes and you might not have your group of friends or family to help you.

“In addition, when walking through the halls, you just didn’t see very many people,” says Meny. “It almost felt like you could be alone at times and I didn’t want anyone to feel that way under the stress.”

Thankfully, the implementation of the Protect Purdue plan and the reopening of campus allowed students to participate in a residential campus experience in Fall 2020. While the innumerable opportunities to build friendship and gain leadership and professional development experience may not be taking place in a traditional manner, resident assistants, student leaders and residential staff have persisted to find ways for residents to create connections and enjoy the social activities the residential campus experience is known for.

“We do this because of the relationships and the connections. That hasn’t changed. It’s just the way we go about it that has.

Residential Life staff and student leaders have been tackling those challenges with gusto under the direction of Christa Pazera. At the forefront of Residential Life’s efforts, Pazera says, is the desire to ensure continued opportunities to build relationships.

“We do this because of the relationships and the connections,” says Pazera, director of Residential Life. “That hasn’t changed. It’s just the way we go about it that has.”

One of the major changes to the residence halls this fall has been the de-densification of spaces in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. This has meant converting room configurations to allow each resident to have an ample amount of space. In some cases, this meant rooms were converted to a lower occupancy, such as double rooms being changed to single occupancy. These changes have understandably resulted in modified opportunities for students to interact indoors. However, small and socially-distanced events have continued, and residents have taken advantage of outdoor spaces and the virtual world to create connections. More than 2,500 in-person and virtual events have taken place during the fall semester.

Organizations such as UR Global and University Residences Multicultural Connections have been particularly active in organizing a mix of indoor, outdoor and virtual events. These have included a well-attended arts and crafts night, de-stress events, attending virtual presentations and weekly wellness walks. Hall clubs and resident assistants have organized numerous outdoor gatherings, ranging from opportunities to play games such as Spikeball and frisbee to meeting to eat in outdoor dining tents together. Other indoor activities have included socially-distanced movie nights and discussions of important world events. Virtual events have included study sessions, video games and even a painting tutorial.

URMC Outdoor Movie Night

Faculty have also impacted the residential experience in positive ways in this changing environment through learning communities and the Faculty Fellows program. One learning community that has found creative ways to create community is Engineering in the World of Data, which includes 68 students (48 residential, 20 online) from 12 counties. The learning community has been innovative in the online world, with an active Discord (chat room) server and virtual trivia, coffee hours, game nights, movie watch parties and biweekly contests that have included a virtual pet show, photo contest, COVID-19 data scramble and meme contest.

As with nearly every other aspect of life on campus during the pandemic, University Residences and Residential Life continues to learn, adapt and evolve to suit the needs of its residents.

“We’re going to have to be creative,” says Pazera. “We’re going to get some great ideas from students and we’ll implement those. We’re learning things from other colleagues at other institutions and we’ll try to implement those as we go, too. One of the core values of the institution is innovation and we’re going to do it.”


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