Building Deeper Connections on Campus

By Haleigh Ehmsen ’16

Living on campus looks different during a pandemic.

Many of us remember our college roommates fondly—often we considered them family. During the COVID-19 pandemic, roommates have become even more important. For Saint Mary’s students on campus, roommates are actually defined as family—the people with whom students can be around without wearing a mask or physically distancing.Students at Saint Mary's

Within their room,  students can be mask-free, but outside of their room or with others who aren’t "family”, masks are on. Daily health checks, random weekly screening tests, and classmates moving into quarantine and isolation are also part of student life when there’s a pandemic. 

The year has brought challenges for students, but Ariel Leary, director of Residence Life, said her office has seen students grow and adapt in remarkable ways. To keep students safe and on campus, residence life and student organizations planned nearly 400+ virtual and physically distanced events in the fall semester alone. Student groups continue to host events on campus in ways that encourage safety—and fun. This year, enhanced outdoor living spaces have also popped up including dining spaces, fire pits, and soon, an ice skating rink.

Nicole Hundt, assistant director of the Office of Student Involvement and Residence Life, said she has seen Saint Mary’s student leaders band together to help students build deeper connections at a time when safety guidelines encourage them to be physically apart. 

Student Activities Board (SAB) President Sarah Catherine Caldwell ’21 said SAB’s No. 1 priority is to keep the community safe, while identifying how to best serve students. 

“The creativity of students has brought some light and joy to an experience that could otherwise be an isolating experience,” Caldwell said. Student leaders found ways to host Late Night Breakfast and orientation by using the whole campus. They hosted Closing of the Circle for first-year students, assembling students on the lacrosse field and connecting students via strands of ribbon instead of by holding hands. At the end of the physically distanced ceremony, they cut the strands of ribbon as a way of symbolizing the class coming together as one and being ushered into the College’s community. Instead of huddling together around Riedinger House at Halloween, the College hosted a reading of Quiet Hours around the fire outside for students.

Hundt has been inspired by the student’s efforts this year. “As Saint Mary’s women are, they have been so determined to make things happen in a meaningful way,” she said. 

According to Leary, mental health has been an important focus for her staff during this time of increased isolation. She said a new telehealth service, SMC Care launched last fall to provide students with physical and mental healthcare day or night. Through SMC Care, students can talk to a licensed medical provider from their cell phone or any web-enabled device. SMC Care can diagnose non-emergency medical conditions, prescribe medications, and offer mental health support and wellness coaching via phone or secure video visits.

 It’s different, but the sense of community is strong. 

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