Extraordinary stories from COVID-19

Caitlin McLeod - 21 April 2021

Living in residence can be a magical experience—not just from the shared hopes, dreams and experience, but because of the unique community forged every year by a diverse body of student residents.

This year, it wasn’t clear whether that magic would still exist. The pandemic swept a lot of everyone’s magic away with online everything, including meeting new people and building a community.

Virtual programs appeared instead of floor potlucks or pizza parties. Physically distanced group fitness classes in the Tuckey gym replaced dodgeball, which in the past was a big group stress reliever. Busy student lounges transformed into quiet study areas.

Yet, through all these changs and virtual everything, our residence halls continued to host some magic this year.


10 magical things that happened in residence in 2020/21

1. Over a thousand students lived in our residences without any major community outbreaks

This is amazing! Our residence halls were one of the few in the country that avoided outbreaks caused by community spread—so that means a big shoutout to all our residents and staff who adapted to this year in residence and the countless staff who worked to clean, serve in the dining hall and support residents. 

2. Residence held its annual petting zoo event in October

Did the animals need to wear masks? No, but even with all safety measures in place, it was still magical to take a study break and cuddle with goats, an alpaca and ducks. (They like cuddles, too.)

3. Student staff rose to the challenge of creating new programs

In the face of ever changing health restrictions and policies, we saw creative programs and events like never before

  • A gingerbread house making competition with celebrity judges including the U of A president and reality TV star Chris Koo
  • Mikyla, Aspen House RA, hosting Sunday night family dinners on Zoom to eat together 
  • Wellness ambassadors hosting multiple make-your-own-terrarium plant nights due to popular demand
  • Reagan, our 2SLGBTQ+ Non-Academic Cohort Leader, organizing a virtual pride week including stand up comedy, a drag workshop and a poetry night
  • Upper year RAs hosting East Campus Got Talent this winter
  • March Madness with great prizes hosted by our virtual RAs
  • Retro drive-in movie nights at Newton Place including free snacks

4. In fact, student staff added to a lot of the residence magic this year

Staff like Mikyla from Aspen House made it their goal to have students feel connected and to support mental health, especially with how difficult this year has been! Mikyla worked tirelessly to help her residents find friends to run with, share extra baked goods with or just check in with one another—all while managing a pretty heavy academic load completing a clinical placement in critical care and working multiple jobs in residence.

Our Senior Resident Assistant Parul helped us keep residence a special place this year. She supported multiple residence communities all while applying to law school (and getting in!). Residence wouldn’t be the magical place it is without the student staff who make it so.

5. Students that couldn’t come to residence this year still got to join our community virtually

Residence Services launched Expedition:Connect this year to create online communities for students who had to delay their arrival to residence this year. Expedition:Connect also provided residence and orientation information, clubs and cohorts that let residents stay connected.

6. Residence supported isolation for over 400 people

The Isolation Accommodation Program helped over 400 students, staff and university community members safely isolate on campus this year. In addition to laundry, airport transport and meal service, staff also provided programming to help isolation feel a little less isolating, including a pen pal project created by isolating residents leaving notes for staff, such as Bernice and Shannon.

7. Impromptu wading pool in Schäffer Hall

Back in November, Schäffer Hall experienced a flood like nothing before. The water damage required months of maintenance work to fix and some students needed to relocate to new residence units.

The magical part wasn’t the flood but how the entire community came together in response. Students showed tremendous patience and empathy for staff trying their best to remedy the situation and as maintenance teams worked for weeks on repairs.

8. Get caught doing good

Did you wear a mask? Follow elevator capacity limits? Residents who kept their communities safe were nominated for Safety Bucks and won some pretty stellar prizes. (Hey, we should all be keeping ourselves safe, but Airpods don’t hurt.)

9. We continue to do better

Residence is constantly working to improve equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) across all our spaces. This year, we introduced some non-academic cohorts into our residence communities, such as our 2SLGBTQ+ and international student cohorts. These non-academic cohorts aim to connect students with shared interests and experiences.

Residence also launched a conduct feedback survey to help identify gaps in EDI and residence staff launched an EDI working group as a result. This group looks at how residence events such as orientation can continue to address social issues in our community, educate residents and create designated community spaces.

10. Don't get hit—Dodge COVID

The Dodge COVID campaign connects key health and safety information with examples from dodgeball. The magic part? Making the phrase “physically distancing” interesting.