The COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on universities. From the way they are operating to which facilities have been able to remain open, and of course, to online versus in-person classes. Several protocols, which were listed on the MacEwan University website, were put in place to ensure the safety of the students and staff, such as wearing masks, routine sanitization between classes, restriction of people allowed in one area at a time, and social distancing regulations. Many of these restrictions have also been put in place at the on-campus housing, MacEwan Residence.
MacEwan Residence has had to put additional restrictions on top of what the University has already initiated in hopes of keeping COVID out of the building. The guest policy, which usually consists of three guests per resident in their room at one time, was shut down completely as noted on the MacEwan Residence website. Guests were not allowed within the building, with the exception of those assisting students moving in or out. Danielle Charbonneau, a former resident assistant (RA) at MacEwan Residence, indicated that the most challenging part was enforcing this policy. She found that having to escort guests out of the building was not something she had wanted to do but understood it was for the safety of others. As a former RA myself, a challenging part about COVID restrictions was having to adapt to the safety regulations put in place for our programs and the inability to use many of their facilities.
MacEwan Residence also has dedicated facilities for entertainment and study rooms on each floor. Many residents utilize these rooms to make friends, host gatherings, and group study for exams. However, the facilities were quickly locked away as they became a petri dish for spreading COVID, thus restricting residents to the confines of their rooms. The theatre, games room, and spa room were also closed down, according to Charbonneau. However, that did not stop the RA’s from putting on student programs to help their residents make friends and have fun. While the programs were mainly online, the Residence Life Team worked diligently to develop fun and educational programs that could cater to every student there.
Charbonneau described that the RA’s utilized pre-packaged foods and online programs to create fun, interactive programs that left the residents satisfied and socialized. Programs have been put on weekly by RA’s on every floor. Each program was designed to help students learn, grow, and have fun. The COVID pandemic may have impacted the method of programs, but not the energy that the RA’s brought. Charbonneau, who had a hand in planning and executing the fall 2021 orientation week, stated that organizing the programs was a huge challenge for them. They made sure to cater to everyone’s comfort levels so that all residents felt included. Charbonneau worked alongside the Residence Life Management team and a professional event planner to implement the safety protocols while still maintaining the same fun that residents yearned for.
It was fun and games, but the COVID protocols were still prominent for years. Both RA’s and residents were beginning to feel the effects of confinement within early months. Mental health levels decreased as more people were unable to interact with people for extended periods, as reported by Huaman-Romani and co-authors in their research essay “Level of Depression of College Students with Binary Logistic Regression Model Approximation in Covid-19 times.” Charbonneau stated that she became depressed and found it hard to focus and stay motivated. Her work as an RA meant that she was living, working, and completing her final year of university from the confines of her bachelor’s room. A former resident, Cooper Helman, stated that he felt that there was a lack of social contact as a resident. He added that his grades suffered tremendously due to decreased in-person events and physical contact. However, both expressed that the MacEwan Residence Life team provided care and comfort to all residents and did their best to ensure they would still have fun.
COVID affected many aspects of society, including mental and physical health, physical contact, and fun activities. However, MacEwan Residence, being an on-campus housing, had a dual duty to maintain its fun programming and to encourage mental and physical health while also abiding by safety protocols. They took the challenge and made it better than some might have ever thought possible. Programs that combined safety with fun were nearly impossible, but the staff made it work. While they did have to close down several critical facilities in order to follow COVID protocols, the Residence Life team was able to make it all work.
Image credit: Danielle Charbonneau