Any other year, a resident assistant in a first-year residence hall might throw a pizza party to welcome new students to Northeastern, and encourage dormitory neighbors to get to know each other. But this is not a normal year. And in a time when communal food and large gatherings are potential breeding grounds for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Northeastern’s RAs have had to come up with creative ways to build community.
“A lot of the normal things we’d do are really out the window this year,” says Bryson McClure, an RA in White Hall and a fourth-year student studying computer science. “But it’s been great talking to other RAs to brainstorm ideas.”
McClure is a veteran of the job—this is his third year as a resident assistant. His floor in White Hall is filled entirely with first-year students, eager to get to know each other and the Boston campus.
He’s running into new challenges this year, though, starting with the fun tips he usually provides his residents.
“I was talking to another RA the other day about what to put on a poster about meal tips—explaining that there’s candy at Rebecca’s Café is no longer applicable this year,” he says.
From White Hall, follow Huntington Avenue east for a bit, and you’ll arrive at Speare Hall, another residence building, in which Kristin Ader—who’s studying marketing and will graduate this spring—is beginning her second year as an RA and her first as a senior resident assistant.
“Move-in is usually the busiest, most exciting day of the year,” Ader says. “This year, we’ve had students trickling in, and it’s just been a very different experience.”
To promote safety on campus and in the surrounding communities, the university spread out the move-in process over the course of 10 days this year, and restricted parents and families from entering residence buildings, in order to mitigate the large crowds that usually populate move-in day.
Ader, also overseeing a floor of first-year students, says she’s “definitely had to get creative” when it comes to organizing community-building activities and events for her residents.
She and McClure are both planning to host virtual game nights, using a platform such as Jackbox, which allows participants to compete with each other on a shared screen from their smartphones.
McClure says he’s also trying to figure out how to pull off a scavenger hunt around the city for his residents.
“I’m thinking about designating landmarks around Boston and encouraging my residents to go out on their own accord so they can explore their surroundings in an organized way that’s still not a big group,” he says.
With so many variables—even one-on-one interactions between RAs and their residents will need to be over a video chat—Ader says she was unsure what to expect this semester.
“I was a little nervous, but ultimately I like thinking outside the box, and I like a challenge,” she says. “As an older RA on staff, I’m also looking out for new RAs, and thinking about how I can help make this experience really impactful, even if it’s different.”
McClure has the same approach.
“A lot of what we do in Res Life is problem-solving in one way or another,” he says, using shorthand for university Housing and Residential Life. “So although this year is completely upside down, in many ways it’s just another day in the life.”