By Christina Cannady | Photographer
Because of the new daily challenges that have come with the pandemic, professors within the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC) decided to create an outlet for students to share their thoughts and struggles as well as hear about what other BIC students are dealing with.
The BIC is a branch of the honors college that offers an alternative core curriculum where students study the interrelations of humanities, literature, philosophy, physical science and the social sciences. It also seeks to put students’ studies in a global perspective. There are 200 students admitted to the BIC each year, and there is a strong emphasis on community.
When BIC directors and faculty began to notice students struggling, Dr. Anne-Marie Schultz along with Dr. Thomas Spitzer-Hanks wanted to ensure students were feeling supported in these challenging times. Thus, the BIC COVID Care Team was created. It is a once-a-week Zoom call in which BIC students are invited to come chat or listen to others who might be facing similar struggles. It is a no-pressure zone to talk about whatever is on their mind, whether it’s COVID-related or not.
“I think it took a little while for people to understand what the point was, and that it wasn’t a class,” Spitzer-Hanks said. “It feels like the level of random socialness has kind of lowered. The level of intentional socialness has to increase.”
With assignments and work piling up, students might see anything that comes through Canvas as just another grade or requirement. When the BIC COVID Care Team began in fall 2020, there was a core of regulars who attended the meetings as well as occasional seniors who would pop in between classes.
“Our purpose is to counteract the isolation and anxiety that our students are facing as a result of a global pandemic,” Spitzer-Hanks said.
“As humans, we like being physically close with other people. And to some degree, the fact that being online feels like being together actually sharpens that slight sense of loss… but there’s also this bittersweet quality,” Spitzer-Hanks said. “We have student colleagues in Washington state, we have student colleagues in Europe, you know, and they can join the call, because they’re still part of the group, even though they’re really far away. And I think that is the best thing about online learning, the accessibility and the ability to connect with people who are really far away.”
Shorewood, Ill., freshman Stephanie Bertino has been a regular attendee of the BIC COVID Care Team since it first began last fall.
“It gives me a chance to step away from the craziness of the semester and just talk with fellow BIC students and professors,” Bertino said. “Being able to talk to my professors about life and not just about class really shows how much they care and how they really do care about their students outside of class.”
Bertino said in the midst of the pandemic and online classes, the meetings have helped her “find and recognize the family atmosphere that the BIC is known for.”
“Being able to talk to professors about our stresses and lives allows me to get more advice from a different perspective on what is going on in my life,” Bertino said.
Spitzer-Hanks said with the weekly group being smaller right now, there are no expectations to live up to for the meetings, nor anything to prepare for or worry about. He sends the Zoom invitation to over 400 BIC students and said he would love to see it grow because that would mean a bigger community for people to connect with and share. However, with a bigger group, more professors would need to attend to facilitate breakout rooms.
“For COVID Care Team, I really don’t think about it as though I’m the teacher,” Spitzer-Hanks said. “I don’t have any specific topic that we’re necessarily going to talk about, I don’t necessarily have anything that somebody needs to understand by the end of our time together.”
Spitzer-Hanks said seeing students coming to terms to what they’re going through and being assured that there’s nothing wrong with them for having that challenge is his main goal for the weekly meetings.
“To me, that’s the most important thing that you can possibly learn, whether it’s in a class or club meetings, or a youth group or anywhere,” Spitzer-Hanks said.
The BIC COVID Care Team hosts its weekly meeting every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on Zoom and is open to any BIC students.