Each quarter, students at Sixth College gather to collectively scream a few minutes before midnight the day before finals week begins. It’s a time to let out stress and reset in advance of exams, as well as indulge in a tasty donut treat. Although traditions like these have largely been put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, students living on campus have still found a way to make the best out of a tough situation.
“This year, we all screamed from our windows and it was so heartwarming to feel the presence of the community—even at a distance,” said fifth-year student Brasilia Perez, who is studying environmental systems and serves as senior resident assistant at Sixth College.
UC San Diego’s Residential Life staff have had the challenging task of reconciling how to make their residents feel welcome and engaged while also ensuring everyone is aware of frequently updated campus health guidelines. The university was able to invite nearly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students to live on campus during Fall Quarter 2020 thanks to the robust Return to Learn program. Residential Life members played a critical leadership role in maintaining resident morale, offering support virtually, reshaping traditions and ensuring safety. “We are community builders, hall monitors and health ambassadors—all in one,” said Perez.
Madenn Walikis, who is majoring in dance with a minor in education studies and is a senior resident assistant at Sixth College, echoed the sentiment; “This year has been much more challenging than anything I have experienced previously, but I’m happy to do this work because I see the value it has when our students feel like they are a part of this community.” Resident Assistants (RAs) took part in two weeks of specialized training in the fall to learn how to adapt community life in a virtual environment, from reaching out via 1:1 calls to reinforcing the no-guest policy.
In a time when students can become burned out by too much screen time, RAs have put their heart into bringing energy and creativity into opportunities to engage virtually to maintain a sense of community. Perez, Walikis and the Sixth College RA team have organized virtual talent shows, watch parties, sunset yoga sessions, study jams, a spicy ramen eating challenge and more. And to emphasize safety, they have provided masks, sanitizer and other personal protective equipment as prizes during events as well as held raffles to encourage residents to sign up for CA Notify.
A close-knit neighborhood
Junior Jay Wilson recalls the hustle and bustle of campus life with nostalgia—from the food vendors on Library Walk to the excitement of concerts like the annual Sun God Festival. Yet he has found a silver lining during the pandemic. As a housing advisor at Muir College, he has discovered that he is able to form a closer bond with each of his residents, who number about 35 (in comparison to nearly 100 pre-pandemic).
“Since the community is smaller, I’ve gotten to know residents better,” said Wilson, who is studying sociology. “Residents are still willing and interested to engage, even with challenges. I reach out via text or a messaging app to see how they are doing. I’m honored they feel comfortable enough to open up to me even in a virtual setting. This time has made me even more driven to support their academic and social journey.”
During the Fall quarter, Wilson got to know what residents enjoyed and their availability. He and other Residential Life team members organized a virtual murder mystery night where students would play characters and visit breakout rooms to solve riddles. They also held a “Speed Friending” event for residents to get to know their neighbors virtually, as well as DIY projects like painting mugs and decorating pots for plants.
Residential Life staff have remained flexible and innovative to encourage virtual program attendance at each of the seven colleges. At Warren College, residential communication increased through email, a community newsletter and direct virtual RA check-ins. “This year required a lot of flexibility; I learned to be more creative when coming up with ideas for programming,” explained Vivian Mason, a senior RA at Warren College who is studying political science major with a minor in Latin American Studies. “Reaching out to other RAs on my team for feedback has helped me think outside of the box. Collaborating with RAs on programs and reaching out to other campus organizations has helped in reaching more residents.
“We are incredibly grateful for the creativity, compassion and dedication of the Residence Life team,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth Simmons. “Their work adapting campus life and providing exceptional support to residents is an exemplar of the Triton spirit; their efforts have allowed UC San Diego to uphold its broader educational mission that includes personal development as well as academic courses.”
There’s no place like UC San Diego
Living on campus enriches the college experience—even in the midst of a global pandemic. Sophomore Danniel Ureña moved into the Raza Living-Learning Community (LLC) at Eleanor Roosevelt College in Fall 2020 with a group of his closest friends. Because he is surrounded by people that he considers family, it has made the difficult year more bearable. The Raza LLC is one of eight housing communities on campus that offer shared co-curricular activities focused on identity, culture and community building.
“Living on campus has always been super fun for me; it’s an awesome experience to live with my best friends,” said Ureña, who also serves as a Student Success Coach. “Not only do I get to live with people who share the same interests as me, but I also get to be part of extracurricular activities and events that are catered toward Latinx students.”
Sophomore Dakshh Saraf returned from India to reside on campus in Winter Quarter. Living in San Diego, he no longer must overcome a 12-hour time zone difference, which made attending meetings and live virtual lectures very difficult. In addition, Saraf has had the chance to enroll in Recreation courses to maintain physical activity to offset time spent on Zoom.
“The best part about living on campus is the college environment,” said Saraf, a data science major who is also International Senator for Associated Students. “There is just so much to learn from so many different people, cultures and backgrounds. Being in the presence of a diverse set of people really exposes me to so many different schools of thought, it’s pretty fascinating.”
He added, “The San Diego weather is a cherry on top with the beach just around the corner. There is so much to love about being on campus.”
The University of California is planning for a return to primarily in-person instruction systemwide starting Fall 2021. By minimizing the spread of COVID-19 on campus through implementation of the Return to Learn program, UC San Diego expects residence halls to operate near their standard occupancy. Students can look forward to more in-person interactions on campus, including the return of student events and university-sponsored programming. Read more in our story on the first look at Fall Quarter.