It’s not an exaggeration to say that this semester is unprecedented. I’m starting my fifteenth year living in a university residence hall—hard to believe!—and never in all that time have I seen a semester without a full complement of students on campus. As we gear up for a fall where the vast majority of undergraduates are not living on campus and where classes are remote, the Resident Ministers (RMs) are reimagining what it means to pastorally accompany students without the day-to-day interactions and face-to-face conversations that are our typical bread and butter. It’s kind of like the old “if a tree falls in a forest…” question: What does it mean to be a Resident Minister with very few residents?
Answering this question has actually been quite illuminating and consoling. In short, whether or not we have students living next door, we are striving to provide as stable an experience as possible, holding space in an uncertain time for students to process what they are going through and working to create continuity of relationships during this disjunctive time. For those students who do remain, then, we want to provide as much of a normal experience as is safely possible. This means we are continuing the RM on-call system, we are ready to meet with students one-on-one or in small groups, we’ll continue sending pastoral reflections, and so on, as we always have. It will be much the same, just with more masks, physical distancing, and hand sanitizer! For those students who are remote, we plan to keep them connected with the RMs they were connected to last year, trusting that the six months that they were on campus before COVID shut everything down gave a chance to build rapport with their RM that can provide a foundation for ongoing support this fall.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that these measures are not the same as we are used to, and that breeds discomfort, uncertainty, and the possibility of something flopping. Yet it is precisely this unease that will better allow us to provide accompaniment to students who themselves are feeling out of joint as they miss their friends, Zoom into their classes, and live far away (or even right next door without all the support systems they are accustomed to having). As a global disease has led to widespread unease, RMs are working to hold space where students can freely acknowledge that pain and not feel the need to be all smiles all the time. By listening to, caring for, and praying with students near and far, RMs hope to provide some sliver of normalcy and remind them that they are never alone.
by Matt Hall