Hopes and Fears is an icebreaker game that can be used to help process through new beginnings or periods of transition. Typically, a facilitator will pass out an index card–one side will be for the participant to list “hopes” and the other side for “fears.” It is supposed to be a moment of vulnerability and bravery which allows participants to not feel so alone in their thoughts related to whatever task the group is about to take on together. The goal is for the group to feel like a team or community empowered by a shared realization.
The entire world has just gone through pandemic-related turmoil and it feels as if we are about to enter a moment of new beginning. Could we possibly be on the other side of the pandemic? In Residence Life we are gearing up for the fall and our next new class of first year students. Most campuses have selected their staff teams which includes professional staff and student staff. We should be anticipating that many are collectively wondering what this fall will bring. What are their hopes and fears for fall 2022? If we allow ourselves to use this activity to navigate this experience and consider life post COVID as a transitional period, what would we write down on our index cards? What are the hopes we have post COVID? What are the fears that we have post COVID? Might a hope be that COVID is over and we can return to some sense of normalcy? Might a fear be that COVID is either over or if it is not over then maybe there is no return to normal?
What does this activity look like when you ask a group of students who have been charged with taking on a role that has operated under the same guidelines and expectations for decades? Without a training manual or much to go on, student staff along with their supervisors were being asked to build community during a global pandemic. One RA said it perfectly as they looked back over the COVID years, “I think we can all say it wasn’t the exact college experience any of us were hoping for, but it’s about making the best of the situation.”
Five pretty fantastic RAs from across the country shared their thoughts about building community “post” COVID, in the hopes that supervisors and professional staff would take note.
But what exactly does it mean to build community?
Mazie, a 2nd year RA at the College of William and Mary, shared that “community building means providing residents with a safe environment to engage with each other, where they can feel confident. This can be accomplished with initiatives that, at the very start, create a sense of casualness and shared experiences over being strangers.”
How are we preparing RAs to provide safe spaces where engagement can happen amongst strangers?
Lucas at Franklin College is a first year RA, has only experienced college during the pandemic, and feels that COVID controls our daily lives. Lucas shared, “community building as a Resident Assistant is really getting to know your residents, especially the first two to three weeks everyone is on campus to create that relationship where they can come up to you and talk to you about things without feeling like they are talking to a professional staff member.”
When asked if Covid has changed the ways that RAs build community, Isabelle, a 3rd year RA at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point shared that before COVID, “creating a community with engagement and positive interactions was almost effortless. The freshmen in my hall were so ready for new experiences and meeting new friends. Since COVID, it is near impossible to get residents to interact with each other. There are no doors propped open, gatherings in the public areas, and little interactions even with their RA. It also changed my role greatly. From being the fun RA who would plan these huge floor gatherings and programs–I became a mask enforcer. It really put a rainy cloud over what used to be a really social and exciting job.”
Sarrah, also a 3rd year RA (campus withheld), shared that the RA job was already a hard job but became harder after the pandemic: “Even while living in the same hall, the hardest part for me was learning how to create a close-knit virtual community. After hours of everyone spending time online for classes, many residents did not want to participate in online community gatherings or events.”
Christina, a 2nd year RA at the College of William and Mary put it quite simply, Covid-19 isolated everyone, including my residents, out of fear of getting sick. Understandably, people may not have been as involved in the community as they once were.
It is no secret that things are different now. We have RAs who have either never experienced college without COVID or those who remember what it used to feel like prior to COVID? The feeling and excitement turned to fear, hesitancy and as one RA shared, more administrative processes. RAs will look to their professional staff for guidance and role modeling.
What do our student staff need in RA training or from supervisors, to aid them in providing a good experience for residents?
According to Lucas, as we begin to operate back to the “normal,” “I think different types of programming instructions and/or ways to interact with your residents can be taught. Isabelle hopes that the next RAs get more training on how we can individually build resident relationships and be the guiding branch to introduce them into the overall community. I also hope for more training in mental health and how we can pull our residents out of their isolation in a healthy comfortable way.”
Sarrah believes that RAs need to be reminded of how important their roles are by “letting new RAs and even returner RAs understand the extent and importance of their roles. Sometimes throughout the year, I see RAs stop giving it their all and feeling like their role is not as important. I would love to have a training session and something to give the RAs as motivation throughout the year so that they know how big of a role they play in these residents’ lives. “
We know that fall 2022 will be different and our student staff know so too! The following are some of the hopes and fears that these 5 RAs have as they think about fall 2022. As you read them, think about your own hopes and fears related to beginning a new academic year.
What are your hopes and fears?
- I really, really love it when residents CAN meet each other during initiatives, and I love being able to wave at all my residents when I pass them. I want to create spaces where people feel like they are known and safe in their home: not just in their room.
- Bigger programs, open doors, and my residents constantly coming to talk to me. I really miss the random gatherings residents would do in the halls or kitchens
- I am excited to begin my junior year and second year as an RA. Having that experience really helps me be able to start off on the right foot
- I’m nervous about new RAs that haven’t experienced the ways in which halls used to be run, but it’ll take a generation of college students to pass before everything can return to pre-pandemic.
- I would be nervous about residents struggling to take the large step of putting themselves out of their comfort zone. It will take a lot of extra effort from the ras and programming to help them, and sometimes that can be a bit nerve-wracking.
- Looking at Fall 2022, one thing I could be nervous about is the students. Every year is different and you do not always know what to expect.