Community during Covid: CLs make dorm life fun amid constraints

Baylor University Community Leaders have new responsibilities in school years impacted by COVID-19. Updated guidelines have caused CLs to invent new ways to build community with their residents. Photo courtesy of Gabby Sherwood

By Gabby Sherwood | Contributor

Baylor’s Community Leader (CL) roles in on-campus housing have changed this school year after having to adjust to COVID-19 guidelines, putting a higher stress on building intentional relationships with their residents and mental health.

COVID-19 has brought out a concern for students’ mental health. Olympia, Wash., senior Mckenna Hooper, a Texana House Community Leader Mentor, said finding ways to destress and practice self care is essential during this time.

“Especially as a Community Leader Mentor, it’s been more of an importance to keep track of self care,” Hooper said. “For me it’s going for a walk, exercising or talking things through with a loved one. If you’re not functioning at your best, it’s going to be hard to lead others.”

San Antonio senior Delaney Sills, a Brooks Residential College CL, said the support she has found from other CLs has motivated her to lead her residents and let them know they’re not alone in their struggles.

“Being a CL has been a very helpful thing for me during COVID, personally,” Sills said. “It’s given me this group of people I know I can rely on and lean on, and they’re here for me no matter what.”

CLs have had to be creative and utilize virtual options for events while maintaining the safety of their residents and themselves.

“From our limitations come lots of creative ideas,” Hooper said. “We’ve had game nights, Netflix watch parties, come-and-go style events and been more creative outdoors. Those are things we’ve always had, we’ve just had to transition to be more creative and think in more innovative ways.”

The restriction on in-person events has shifted the focus of CLs from planning events to resident engagement, said Sills.

“I’ve met more one-on-one with residents and met with residents on Zoom,” Sills said. “I used to love taking three to four residents a week to coffee, and now I can’t really do that while keeping their safety. It’s been more of a shift to doing things virtually and connecting with them in a new way.”

The student body has grown fatigued about continuing to comply with COVID-19 policies, and it has landed on the CLs to be the ones reminding students to wear their masks, said Associate Director for Resident Learning Rob Engblom.

According to Hooper, the relationships between CLs and their residents has shifted due to COVID-19 protocols being in place in residence halls.

“The biggest thing is we’ve had to be enforcers, almost like security in a way,” Hooper said. “It’s a different role. We’re usually just here for community, and that’s a big part of our role. But now we’ve changed to enforcers.”

Engblom said the CLs have been resilient in keeping their responsibilities to build community and be a resource to their residents.

“This is probably the strongest year I’ve had with the CL staff since I worked here,” Engblom said. “I’m not surprised, because I know how good they are as student leaders, but it’s just amazing to see how they haven’t let COVID-19 negatively impact their approach to the position.”