As students return for the fall semester, they are faced with many changes. New guidelines requiring masks, smaller chapel groups, distanced classroom experiences and outdoor eating make their college experiences different.
John Brown University is renowned for its community, but how can students nurture community from six feet away?
Stephen Burchfiel, junior English major, said, “Keeping up relationships needs to be more intentional during social distancing. You can’t just casually hang out, so finding time to hang remotely with people you’re close to is important. Social distancing is absolutely a top priority right now. If we don’t choose to stay safe for ourselves, we actively put other people around us at risk. Social distancing is the best thing we can do to keep people around us from literally dying.”
Gloriana Brown, junior communication major, encourages students, especially freshman students, to be creative when hanging out with friends. “There’s always a way to do something fun socially distanced,” Brown said. “Growing up homeschooled by myself, I had to find really creative ways to entertain myself and it’s sort of the same type of creativity. Go sit on the tops of your cars individually at SWEPCO and watch the sunset. Go biking, hiking or to the kayak park. Above all, find any and every excuse to socialize whenever you can. You probably feel lonely, but so does everyone else.”
Both Burchfiel and Brown agree that it is important to be intentional about friendships during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the usual casual interactions, like walking through open dorm, finding tables full of friends in the cafeteria and hammocking in large groups, are either gone or unrecognizable.
Instead of trying to replicate these large friend groups and hangouts, Brown suggests prioritizing close friends. “Find a few buddies who you can basically share life with. Do homework together, walk to lunch together, hammock together, whatever you can find to do with them,” Brown said. “I’ve found maintaining friendships to be about creativity and a sense of ‘never leaving their side.’ Like [my friends] and I basically follow each other around everywhere … We just sort of cling to each other’s quality time like our life depends on it. I can’t tell you how many late night taco truck and SWEPCO trips [my friends] and I have made, how many masked homework sessions [I’ve had] at Cafe on Broadway and prayer times I’ve had with [friends] and how much of a difference that made in my quality of life.”
The Washington Post, in a piece on socially distanced activities, suggests to stay connected through the internet. Making playlists for friends, watching the same movies while facetiming or texting and chatting on the phone while doing chores or homework can keep you close when apart. The article also suggests running errands together or hanging out outside, both places where you can be together physically while effectively socially distanced.
As President Pollard reminded students in his campus-wide email on August 28, social distancing may seem inconvenient, but it’s important for our community as a whole. “You are just hanging out with your friends, which is one of the great gifts from God, but all of a sudden that hanging out without following the COVID-19 protocols has much larger consequences because of the pandemic, and not just for you and your friends, but for everyone at JBU,” Pollard wrote.
Though it may feel weird to do things with friends online when they live just down the hall and it may be sad to see your large friend group stop hanging out every weekend, it could be the difference between getting sent home in September or finishing the school year strong.
Photo: Daria Hall, The Threefold Advocate