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Keeping Ole Miss Freshmen Safe and Cared For

Community assistant Solange Tchouknou focuses on keeping freshmen safe but engaged in student life. Photo by Amirah Lockhart.

A few months ago, thousands of college freshmen arrived at the University of Mississippi to live on their own for the first time ever and in the midst of a global health pandemic. Just like everything else, on-campus living was drastically changed.

Early on, some community assistants (CA) – those tasked with helping students in the residence halls with personal and academic challenges – voiced concerns about the lack of communication between administration and student housing workers.

Now, at the end of the fall semester, some working in student housing are reflecting on months of working to keep students safe and accustomed to the “new normal.”

Luckyday Graduate Assistant Bri Reda says the goal was to keep students engaged and uplifted despite the need to be cautious.

“There’s the fear because in the beginning it was really strict and a lot of people were scared and fearful of the virus which they still are now,” Reda said. “But incorporating that piece to get them to come out of their room and engage with others in a safe manner.” 

As a part of the University’s COVID guidelines released in August, housing prohibited all residents from checking in visitors and extended the usual quiet hours. In-hall cafeterias changed from buffet-style to to-go plates, with limited dining hall seating. All of that made it harder to help students, especially freshmen, to become acquainted with one another.

CA Solange Tchouknou tried her best to do things that her residents liked to build a feeling of connection with residents while they were still social distancing.

“One of my recent community builders that my residents loved was watching Grey’s Anatomy via Netflix Party,” Tchouknou said. “Netflix Party offers a chat where people can communicate while watching the show. My residents are huge Grey’s Anatomy fans and really enjoyed that community builder.”

Reda also worked to connect students with distant relatives and friends.

“People could come in and take a Polaroid picture and write a letter home to a family member or a loved one. Everything is always wiped down, like the pens but obviously taking pictures is socially distanced,” she said.

CAs were required to host a community builder every month in the public lobby areas in accordance with CDC and university guidelines.

Although the university is closed for Thanksgiving Break, some residence halls, including Luckyday, will remain open 24/7 with select CAs monitoring the halls during the break. And student housing workers will be back in spring, ready to care for their residents again.

Story by Amirah Lockhart, journalism student

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