The transition to an absolutely virtual environment has taken a toll on many, including myself. The trying times that we are living in have resulted in numerous questions among educators. How will students be provided an equitable education? How will students benefit from a virtual environment? These are all questions that are still being answered. One of the major things that is missing from the conversation is social interaction and feeling like a part of the Ithaca College community.
My role as a virtual residential assistant (RA) at the college has helped me to foster community. I serve as a virtual RA to residents who were supposed to reside in Bogart Hall this fall semester. Considering that I have been an in-person RA, this change in environment has challenged me and forced me to adjust given the lack of in-person interaction and social connection. However, my team of staff has made the transition remarkable given its resilience and dedication. I work in a team of five members, including my residence director (RD), and we are referred to as the Lower Quads/the Garden Apartments supercluster. Every individual in my staff is assigned to a building, but we work collectively and communicate with our RD who also assists us. This semester is the first time that a virtual RA position has been offered, and the position differs from the traditional role of an RA. As virtual RAs, we are forced to communicate from a distance, and we do not engage in traditional RA duties that occur on campus.
Our residents primarily consist of freshmen who are forced to adjust to college virtually without any physical contact. The current predicament of these freshmen is perplexing simply because they are entering a new chapter of life without receiving the full college experience. In committing to this position, I took a moment to put myself in the shoes of these incoming students and recognized my true desire and goal to ensure that these individuals could have the best college experience possible given the world’s current circumstances.
Every week, my staff and I put on an active event, in which we use the platform Zoom to host interactive activities, and passive events, in which we post educational and informational content on Instagram to engage with residents. Our goal is to facilitate conversation and give residents the opportunity to socialize, connect, have fun, be themselves and adjust to the college. We put on various active events, like a penpal program, an open mic night and a MasterChef challenge. Although we have experienced low attendance, we are still dedicated to our mission and have noticed that individuals are benefitting from continued interaction. Our penpal program was a true success. We paired individuals with someone who shared similar interests and encouraged communication through letter writing. Thankfully, I can say that we have individuals who have made connections.
To get to know our residents individually, we make efforts to have one–on–one meetings with them to check in with their overall well-being and emphasize that we are a resource.
Overall, this position has required dedication, creativity and resilience. It is a continuous learning experience, but I remain devoted to the mission. Fostering community virtually allows students to form connections with individuals that could last throughout their college careers. We are social beings, and the presence of COVID-19 has forced us to isolate ourselves. In creating community, residents are able to make the most of their college experience while at home.
As the semester continues, we are striving to ensure the comfortability of residents. We want to make them feel warm, welcome and wanted, while being of assistance in any shape or form.