Imagine a bustling lobby of a residence hall, full of new students who are moving away from home for the first time. Bins are overflowing with belongings, anticipation is radiating off of the walls of the building, and everyone is clearly excited for their new start. No one could have predicted that move in day would be full of strict social distancing protocols, and mask requirements.
With the pandemic looming overhead, campus life has looked a little different this year. After having a nearly empty campus fall semester, University of Portland welcomed over 800 students for the spring. Most resident halls remained open for incoming students, however Christie and Kenna remain closed for the semester.
What has this meant for the community and dorm life in resident halls? While the university has implemented several COVID-19 safety measures, such as a campus wide mask mandate and surveillance testing, resident halls have still been trying to encourage community building while also being COVID-19 safe, through both virtual and in person events.
Sophomore Caroline Sanders returned to Fields for a second year for spring semester. Comparing her freshman experience to this year, she gave praise to the RA’s for working as hard as they have been.
“I think at the start of the semester it was hard figuring out what was allowed with COVID, but as the semester progressed, hall staff and hall council got really good at creating different events that follow social distancing to allow for that same kind of community,” Sanders said. “Even if the events are virtual, Zoom allows us to get to know one another”.
Freshman Senator Miguel Navarro is amongst the students that moved into Villa Maria Hall for this Spring semester.
“Our hall does a lot of community building. We have a lot of events happening every week, from hall mass, to Super Smash Bros tournaments, to movie nights,” Navarro said. “We have the Villa gauntlet challenge that happens every Sunday with [the] different wings.”
Villa is not the only dorm hall that has been encouraging community building with their residents. While RA's and res life staff are committed to keeping all residents safe during this pandemic, creating a welcoming community remains important in all UP dorms.
“We’ve had a lot of events that are online as well and we make sure that safety is an important thing, When we did floor wars, we would have hand sanitizer and masks. We always make sure to space out,” Jamieson Miller, a freshman hall council member in Schoenfeldt hall, said. “We do a lot of community building. We have weekly hall meetings for hall council and wind up planning a lot of hall events. We have floor wars, Wednesday game nights, movie nights every week, and tournaments.”
Lund Family Hall is the newest dorm building on campus, and although it is currently heavily occupied by freshmen, they have still been working both to continue old Lund traditions and develop new ones.
“There’s usually something going on run by the RA’s every weekend,” freshman Lund resident, Harry Hanna said. “I feel like the community has made this school year a lot easier because there’s a lot of different majors here, but COVID is making it hard for everyone. Whenever someone is having a bad day, we know we can lean on each other for support.”
Navarro agrees with the positive impact of the heavily encouraged community building taking place in residence halls.
“It’s a way to destress, hanging out with some of my hallmates. Sometimes we go to lunch together,” Navarro said. “It helps me to get out of the school mindset and have fun. It has definitely positively impacted my semester.”
Sanders was enthusiastic about coming back to her UP family, and encouraged incoming freshmen to take advantage of living on campus next year.
“The community is the biggest thing that made me decide to come back for spring semester, especially with switching to online school,” Sanders said. “I wanted to have my sense of family again, even if they aren’t my blood family. I feel at home here, and although I knew things would be different, I knew that I needed to come back. Campus is also beautiful during the spring and I didn’t get to experience it last year as a freshman, so that was part of the reason why I decided to come back too.”
Lizzie Wisely is a reporter for the Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.