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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

RAs lean on ‘passive programs’ amid COVID-19

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Gabby Huber ’21, the head RA of West Campus, tries to connect with her residents through Spotify. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Like many St. Joe’s RAs, Gabby Huber ’21 has had to get creative this year.

COVID-19 restrictions in residence halls means a no-guest policy, mask requirements for all residents when outside of their rooms and maximum occupancy restrictions for common spaces within buildings.

Most recently, Huber, head RA of West Campus, which includes Merion Gardens and Pennbrook Apartments, is trying to connect with her residents through Spotify. 

“Right now I have a Spotify playlist out in my hallway for the residents,” Huber said. “When they’re walking by, they get to write their favorite study songs. I made it into an actual playlist to send to them.”

Huber called it a “passive program,” the kind of program RAs can safely pull off during a pandemic when their usual tools—in-person group events and communal  food—are not as readily available to them. Instead, passive programming has become a staple of the three to four events RAs are required to plan for their residents each semester.

Michele Bilotta ’22, RA in McShain Hall, said she has embraced the challenge of programming during a pandemic. She posts questions in the hallway for her residents—pancakes versus waffles, pineapple on pizza or not, coffee or tea—and after they have voted, they meet on Zoom to debate their preferences. 

“It’s allowed me to think outside of the box,” Bilotta said. “Programming last year, I really just thought about getting people together in person. But [the passive program] is fun. It has really worked well, and it is something I’ll take from thinking about programming in a different way, in a safer way.”

Bilotta has also pulled off “De-Stress Fests,” where residents pick up materials to make stress balls, then make them together on Zoom. Residents have made their own glitter jars as well. When the weather was nice last fall, Bilotta collaborated with other female RAs in McShain to host a cornhole event for their residents to meet other people. She also hosted a bingo night that turned out well.

“I gave them all bingo cards, and some of the people were on Zoom, some of the people were in the hallway, sitting outside their door, and I would call the bingo numbers,” Bilotta said. “When they yelled, ‘Bingo!,’ I gave them a little prize. They really liked the bingo night program because there was an option for it to be virtual and in person.” 

Nic Schoppe ’22, head RA of LaFarge Hall, said planning programs with COVID-19 restrictions and a smaller budget has been difficult. While in the past Schoppe said he had about $200 to work with each semester, he estimated that he has about half of that this year. 

“It makes it hard to think of things that are fun and feasible at the same time,” Schoppe said.

Because there are fewer residential students on campus this year-in part because of a smaller first-year class and in part because a number of returning students chose to live at home because of the pandemic-the university has made less revenue from housing, according to Jessica Moran-Buckridge, Ed.D., director of Residence Life.

In February 2021, residential occupancy on campus was 1,595 students. That is down from 2,250 in February 2020, Buckridge wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk.

Even with a reduced residential population and budget for programming, Schoppe has been busy. He projected an Eagles game on a screen outside LaFarge and served individually wrapped snacks. He hosted a trivia night with three other RAs, a campuswide scavenger hunt and a professional planning event where residents dressed up in suits and ties for professional headshots they could use for LinkedIn or other opportunities. He is currently running a March Madness bracket. 

Schoppe said it has been difficult to get feedback from his first-year residents on how well he is doing because they have never experienced anything other than pandemic college life. 

“They don’t know what the normal program is like in a normal year,” Schoppe said. “But I guess the piece of advice that I got from them is try to stay away from the virtual program as much as possible. All the Zoom stuff going on now, the virtual things that they have to be a part of,  it’s kind of like student fatigue at this point. [I try] to get more creative and innovative in the ways that I plan programs and what I can do with the current restrictions.”

Huber said her residents are feeling that fatigue too, which has affected attendance at her programs.

“It’s been more difficult to engage the residents and get them to come,” Huber said. “The mental burnout is real, especially if you didn’t have a fall break and don’t get a true spring break this year.”

Overall, Schoppe said it has been an instructive year. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s hard to build relationships, especially when you’re doing it over Zoom,” Schoppe said. “With check-ins with residents, I do offer an in-person option just because I have my own room and I’m able to distance with masks on with my residents if it’s a small group or one person. But I think just really using different relationship-building techniques has helped a lot this year, especially because everybody seems so physically distanced from each other.”

Moran-Buckridge said she is grateful to the RAs who managed these challenges.

“Our RAs have done extraordinary work this year,” Moran-Buckridge said. “They have handled constantly changing expectations and needs of the SJU community with grace, care and thoughtfulness. They are a huge part of SJU’s success in staying ‘on-ground’ this year.”

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