Hall directors build on-campus communities with caution

By Will Mulligan and Austin Thompson | September 14, 2021 11:55am
Pilot prevent signs on the front doors of Shipstad Hall.
Media Credit: Marek Corsello / The Beacon

Even in the best years, being a hall director can be hard work. From planning community events, to crisis response, to mentoring students, the job comes with a variety of responsibilities. Hall directors hired over the past year are settling into their roles, finally with full dorms.

While masks are still required in any non-personal spaces, events like hall mass, movie and game nights are still happening.

“Though students are required to wear masks in public spaces within the dorm and outside, the community of Mehling and West Quad has still been able to bond and grow together,” Paige Patterson, Mehling Hall director, said in an email. “It’s always great to overhear laughter coming from lobby spaces and outside.”

Mehling Hall Hall Director Paige Patterson. Photo courtesy Paige Patterson.

The constraints of last semester made it difficult for dorms to foster a sense of community. Because of that, new hall directors felt students missed out on a lot of the typical college experience. For them, the campus finally feels alive, a stark contrast to the experience of last semester.

“I love to see the students laughing and spending time together,” said Pablo Quan Lopez, Shipstad’s new hall director. “That’s just something that we didn’t hear much of last semester.”

Fostering student communities is the goal of dorm living, and mask wearing hasn’t obstructed that goal. But this new environment continues to raise new questions.

“My personal philosophy is that everything can be framed within the context of community,” said Michael Ricker, director of Corrado Hall. “So much of life in the residence halls is trying to build a community, but also asking that question, ‘What does living in a community really look like?’” 

“Over the past 18 or so months that question has an entirely new variable,” Ricker continued. “We've had to ask, `What does living in a community look like in this new world?’”

Shipstad Hall Hall Director Pablo Quan Lopez (right) and Assistant Hall Director Jenna Morgan. Photo courtesy Pablo Quan Lopez.

While building a community has been important, hall directors are equally committed to maintaining a safe environment. Ricker, one of many hall directors hired during the pandemic, was surprised at how responsive students have been to the regulations.

“After the last year and a half there's such a strong desire to be on campus again and to be together again and to be doing these events,” Ricker said. “And if we have to wear a mask to do that, then great. We're gonna do that because we've missed out on so much over the last 18 months.”

The Office of Residence Life provides ongoing guidance to its employees regarding student health and best practices, all in line with information from the CDC.

Patterson echoed Ricker’s excitement for in-person learning, but expressed that students’ situations are still as nuanced and varied as ever.

“Each situation is different depending on different student needs,” Patterson said. “Generally, if a student doesn’t respond to several reminders about our mask policy, it is my responsibility to follow up with them in a more formal conversation where I get to know them, understand their context, and explain the importance of wearing masks in our community.”

Though they are excited about the new sense of life around campus, hall directors are still aware of the challenges posed by the pandemic and expressed their concerns.

“It's a constant worry,” said Quan Lopez. “As a world, we're not really over this yet. For me personally, it's frustrating. Whenever I read the news, there's more COVID or another strain. So, as a world, we're not over this and so that means for us here at UP we also have to always keep that in mind.”

Austin Thompson is a reporter with the Beacon. He can be reached at thompsau22@up.edu.

Will Mulligan is a reporter with the Beacon. He can be reached at mulligan22@up.edu.