It’s hard to believe, but after a year and a half where there were only a small fraction of the undergraduate students living on campus, everyone is finally back this semester. This is great news for everyone, especially our RM (Residential Ministers) team — last year, we faced quite the paradox of trying to be Residential Ministers for no-longer-residential students! I can’t even think how many times during the course of the pandemic I’ve heard from all sides about how draining and unsatisfactory it was to only be able to engage virtually, despite the heroic efforts the RMs made to be endlessly creative, so the return of students to the Hilltop is indeed a welcome sight.
But also, we know that just because the halls are full doesn’t mean we can just snap back like a rubber band to “how things used to be.” None of us are really the way we used to be prior to COVID; we’ve all endured a grueling societal trauma that continues to unfold. Two classes worth of students have graduated since March 2020, so half our undergraduate population is functionally brand new. Our current residents, who have spent four semesters learning how to be Zoom students, now need to remember what it means to return to the classroom, with its concomitant increase in rigor. For our part, only about half of the RMs began their ministry prior to the pandemic, so we have much to (re)learn about what it means to accompany students in an embodied, non-virtual context. Combine this with grief over loved ones who have contracted the virus, the nationwide uptick in mental health concerns, ever-worsening climate catastrophes, insidious stressors like racism, and so many more, and you have a recipe for a very challenging academic year.
To that end, the RMs remain committed to the work of walking with students through their college journey (even despite their new circumstances), helping them make meaning of their time at Georgetown, and providing a source of support close at hand. We continue to engage them through open houses, weekly pastoral reflections, one-on-one conversations, on-call response in the middle of the night, and much more. Even as many of our methods of engagement hearken back to the pre-pandemic days, we also hope to take the best of what we learned in the virtual environment and build off of those successes. We found that there are indeed students who preferred a Zoom call to a face-to-face chat. We utilized a host of online tools to engage students synchronously and asynchronously. We recentered racial justice as a top priority. We had a chance to rethink what a religious community can look like. Each of these should lay a foundation for continued growth moving forward.
So as we begin the fall semester, and work to co-create what this similar-but-not-the-same “new normal” looks like, I would ask for your continued prayers. There will be a readjustment to having neighbors again, smaller budgets, and new means of engaging students, each of which will require grace, creativity, and growth. In my Episcopal tradition, at baptism, when parents and godparents make pledges to support and uphold a child, they do so not from their own strength, but they say, “I will, with God’s help.” This is very resonant for me and for the RM team this year. We cannot minister alone, but with God’s help, we will.
by Matt Hall, associate director for Residential Ministry on the Main Campus.