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Socially distant and socially awkward: Inside the freshman dorms

First-years drag their carts of pillows and bedding up to their new twin XL beds. They never thought this day would come. 

The dorm is quiet, and the fear of making friends is already setting in. As the days go by, the halls remain quiet as more people trickle in. 

In the hallways, they pass each other in their masks. They try to smile, to make a friend, but are unable to tell who they are passing. The girl from 204? Someone down the hall?

They ask themselves one question: Can I make friends and stay safe? 

First-year Grace Klebe, a marketing and journalism double major, is a resident in Emerson Hall. Before moving to campus, she worried about making friends in her dorm during a pandemic. After moving in, she realized these worries were valid.  

“It's more difficult to make friends during COVID, especially since there’s less people in general,” Klebe said. “We have a lot of empty dorms on our floor and a lot of people are in singles. It is just less social than I expected.” 

An important part of the freshman year residence life experience is having hall-wide activities that are scheduled by residence staff. These activities help to promote community building within the halls and are being tailored to COVID-19 regulations. 

Vicka Bell-Robinson, director of residence life, said it’s important for students to have the on-campus option. Some students are challenged with balancing school and home life at the same time. Other students need Miami’s campus because home is not a suitable place to learn. 

“More than ever before in my career, it’s become very obvious that where you live matters,” Bell-Robinson said. “Students are feeling like they have feet in both worlds.”

Bell-Robinson encouraged students to engage when they can to make connections. She said that huge campus-wide events are not typically where you meet friends. 

“You make your closest friends through your courses, your residence hall, through those individual opportunities,” Bell-Robinson said. “That’s still all very possible.”

Between fluctuating COVID-19 case numbers and guidelines always changing, residence life is trying to stay flexible and accessible for students. 

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“We’re all learning in this experience,” Bell-Robinson said. “No one has been in a pandemic and tried to do what we’re doing here. We all need to have some grace and compassion for one another as we navigate this.” 

First-year Eli Tivin, a social studies education major and resident of Brandon Hall, said his hallmates are trying to create a sense of community in the dorm while still following COVID-19 guidelines. 

“We had a dinner night that was masked and socially distanced and we sometimes watch football games and stuff together,” Tivin said. “We are still getting a sense of community, just six feet apart.” 

As students adjust to being back, Bell-Robinson said residence hall meetings have been virtual. To keep students comfortable, they are easing into in-person programming. Emerson Hall, hosted an event about identity spaces and Havighurst Hall baked cookies.

These events are properly distanced and masked. Each quad, except for academic quad, is supplied with tents for outdoor programming as an extension of community spaces. 

“We are not used to being a society that needs masks, but it’s still an important thing to do to keep each other safe,” Bell-Robinson said. “We want to be here.”

Resident Assistants (RAs) are also trying to create an inclusive environment for freshmen. 

Senior Tre King, a media and culture major with an arts management co-major, is in his third year of being an RA. This year, he is an RA in Hawks Landing, an off-campus apartment complex. The university moved students into the apartments to allow for social distancing in residence halls.

“A difference here from a traditional residence hall is a lot of these residents are more independent,” King said. “It’s been a little bit of a transition, shifting my leadership style and the ways I approach things.”

A challenge for King as an RA during the pandemic is creating a strong connection with his residents. 

“Another challenge is being able to have that authentic, genuine connection,” King said. “But I do think it offers a different type of experience where you have to be more intentional about the relationship you’re making.”

No matter where freshmen are living, there are opportunities for community. Wear your mask, wash your hands and keep putting yourself out there. There are still four great years to come.