This quarter’s Roompact Contest invites residence life and housing professionals to submit a blog post responding to the prompt, “How has COVID changed ResLife?”
The post shared as part of this series represent their views on the topic. If you’d like to submit your own post, learn more about how to enter the contest here.
Guest Post by Crystal Lay, MS, Residence Life Professional
The year was 2000 and it was my first year as an RA. That meant I had my own room. And this was important because as an introvert–I needed space to relax and recharge. When you are an RA, or any level of live in staff member, it is very easy to feel like you are tethered to the role and to the work. Everywhere you go someone knows your name or assumes that you are a mobile list of resources. I finally put up a bulletin board with the phone numbers of all the local pizza places (because I could not remember all the food options in Naperville, Illinois). Anyway, back to having my own room! While I knew someone could knock on my door if they needed me, there were moments where quiet and unplugging could happen.
As a director of residence life, life is very hectic and busy, but I admit that it can be lonely at times. They say the higher up you go, the lonelier it gets. This became pretty evident during the early stages of the COVID pandemic as I realized that even introverts could get lonely. What do you get when you mix an introvert, a director, and social distancing orders? Eek! Now, I do not want to speak on behalf of all introverts, but my internal battery gets its charge from hiding out and enjoying silence. Suddenly it became too quiet and very easy to hide as humans began to disappear from campus. Some days it was amazing. I would walk around campus and admire the pond, the trees, and the peacefulness. But after a while it was boring. I was reminded of why I got into Student Affairs–to be around students and the occasionally bursts of noise.
I then thought about those student leaders who took on-campus jobs or opportunities. This was not what they signed up. For them it was also quiet and lonely. They were creating programs in bags and reminding their residents to put on masks. I then realized that they may be lonely too. Being an RA is not just about responding to crisis and going on rounds. Residents and interacting with them is a big part of having a live-in role, at any level. So, what does this mean when everything we know about engagement has been based on in person events?
Fast forward to this fall and as I’ve walked around campus, I have noticed fewer faces glued to phone screens. Students are talking to each other. The laughter and smiles are contagious. Perhaps being forced to communicate through screens for 18 or so months made them miss human interaction. The pause that the world fell under may have reintroduced the beauty and magic of in-person conversation.
And there were also the colleagues that worked from home. They reemerged from their homes and back in the campus world. They commented on how great we all looked outside of our little squares. There were several folx hired in my department who I had never met in person. I realized how important it is to reconsider the very narrow and sterile definition of professionalism as our colleagues navigated babies, pets, loud neighbors, and their full-time job in front of their department. Oh, and all while trying to find the best setting in Zoom for our skin tones!
This pandemic along with all the other things happening in our country reminded me that no matter what position, campus, or color of my mask, I needed community. Now I am not saying that I need a lot of humans constantly around me! So, keep your distance, LOL. But I do need at least 1-2 other humans in the workplace who make me a better version of my professional self. As we enter the new calendar year, it is my hope that we spend less time staring at screens and more staring at each other, in a very appropriate non-creepy way, of course.