February 15, 2021 | Matt Kucinski

Students with masks creating snow sculptures on university campus.

On Monday, February 8, President Michael Le Roy announced the university would be observing enhanced physical distancing for two weeks in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The move was in response to a significant spike in positive cases on campus.

This meant in-person activities would be limited significantly. While residence life staff had been adapting to maintain a sense of community during the pandemic, this new layer would require even more creativity.

“We were intended for community, for proximal relationship,” said Hennie Schoon, area coordinator for three residence halls at Calvin. “I was a resident director 20 years ago as well, and what drew me back to Calvin was the incarnate, relational, doing-life-together that happens here. There’s a lot of beauty about being face-to-face. Having said that it is very possible to do this virtually; it’s not sustainable long-term, but it is for short stints.”

Creating a plan

So, Schoon teamed up with three graduate assistants, Rebecca Wiegers, Jason Entingh, and Jennifer Coria, and worked with resident assistants, Barnabas leaders, and residence hall social planning teams to come up with and implement a plan to keep community thriving during the two weeks of enhanced physical distancing.

The result? About a dozen days of activities that both respect the health and safety protocols in place at the university and support the learning outcomes of residence life: healthy relationships, faith development, social responsibility, self-management, and congruent decision-making.

“We tried to use those five as a starting point as we thought about how do we do this important work even if we can’t be in the same space for a time,” said Schoon.

Taking a holistic approach

The lineup includes everything from virtual bingo to virtual worship nights, from online fitness options with incentives to virtual minute-to-win-it challenges. Residents also competed with their roommates in a snow sculpture competition and will have the opportunity to walk to Peet’s Coffee on campus with another person from their residence hall to grab a cup of coffee and to enjoy conversation on the way there and back.

“The mental health of students is so important. The toll that isolation takes on everyone is tough, so we are thinking about how we can encourage mental health through some outdoor activities, through getting people to laugh by competing in some silly or goofy games, and by incorporating elements of mindfulness as well,” said Schoon.

At this point, the enhanced physical distancing is scheduled to be in place through midnight on Monday, February 22.

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