Family groups aim to fill hole left by absence of first-year atmosphere

The Baylor Wellness Department hosting their weekly Wellness Wednesday Workout at the SLC. Emilee Edwards | Photographer

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

Family group leaders create a new type of Baylor experience for first year students who will miss out on time-honored traditions this year.

Upperclassman leaders are assigned family groups of either freshman roommates and their next door neighbors, all transfer students or all-online students. They’re intended to build connections between students who come from different backgrounds, states or countries to attend Baylor.

Senior Coordinator for Welcome Programs Vincent Phillips is part of the family groups planning committee that oversees student leaders and their faculty/staff mentors. Phillips said the faculty mentors were intentional to give student leaders a lot of freedom in how they lead their groups.

“Zoom and text messaging is used. I’ve heard some people are doing virtual game nights over Houseparty, which is pretty fun,” Phillips said. “For us, it is easy for faculty and staff to come in and say this is how you should lead groups; in reality, that doesn’t work for some people. Some people enjoy FaceTime, text messaging, while others enjoy a very structured meeting on this date, at this time. We want to give those student leaders the opportunity to walk into their group setting how they wanted to.”

Houston senior Cerenity Austin is holding her first event this week as a student group leader for the transfer year experience community at University Parks Apartments. Leaders plan events both on and off campus, like movie nights or tours around Waco, or invite their students to campus events.

“Every week, Family Group Leaders host an office hour for students to join and ask questions, seek advice or to chat and get to know the other students in their group,” Austin said.

Last week, students were invited to Baylor Wellbeing’s Neon Bash event with Refit Dance, Tabata and yoga. Free activities like this one are frequently hosted on campus for students to interact with their peers.

Phillips said the groups are not just meant for fun but also for faculty and staff to know more about students’ well-being.

“As much as we want these groups to be fun and lively, we also want to gather information on those students because they won’t come straight out and say to a faculty member, ‘Hey I’m food insecure, or I’m having problems with my classes,’” Phillips said. “We want to make sure our first year students are being taken care of holistically and not just on the making friends part or academic part. We want to make sure you as a student are being taken care of as a human being.”

Austin said new students with personal relationships with group leaders will feel more comfortable to reach out.

“This allows us to be a close resource for students not only by contact, but also physically so they know we are always there to help,” Austin said.

Faculty and staff mentors meet with leaders on a weekly basis. Meetings, once committed to training, are now an opportunity for them to share what they are doing in their groups and bounce ideas off one another.

“A lot of students from the training would say some people are trying to figure out how to get into the groove of things,” Phillips said. “We understand that, so in our upcoming topics, we’re going to be talking about time management in a cool, interactive way.”

Leaders suggest campus resources that are available and invite campus organizations to introduce themselves to groups with the hope they will spark an interest with students trying to find their place.

Phillips’ favorite part of the family group program has been the outside-of-the-box thinking and commitment from upperclassmen leaders.

“I really enjoy seeing the commitment from the upperclassmen to the Baylor experience,” Phillips said. “They understand that they got to experience a lot of things, they’re trying to give those same experiences to our new students.”