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Return to Campus: Student Engagement Activity for Fall

Student activities will look different this fall, but opportunities for students to find connections, engage with student groups and develop leadership skills are a critical part of student success.

Student activities will look different this fall, but opportunities for students to find connections, engage with student groups and develop leadership skills are a critical part of student success. On July 31, 2020, representatives from Student Affairs, Equity Diversity & Inclusion and student leaders discussed approaches for virtual programming in the fourth Return to Campus webinar: Student Engagement Activity for Fall.

University leaders in attendance:
  • Vice President for Student Affairs Lori McDonald
  • Director of Student Leadership & Involvement Erica Andersen
  • Director of the LGBT Resource Center Clare Lemke
  • Director of Housing & Residential Education Todd Justesen
  • Director of Fraternity & Sorority Life Jess Turuc
  • Director of the Center for Student Wellness Brittany Badger Gleed

Webinar transcript

Lori McDonald

Good afternoon. I'm Lori McDonald, vice president for Student Affairs. We are here this afternoon with a number of panelists to talk about student activities and what they're going to look like this fall. For those of you who are joining us this afternoon in real-time, I hope you are staying cool, it is an incredibly warm day out there. We will get started right now.

Student activities are going to look different this fall, just like a lot of other things on campus. But the opportunities for students to find connections, to engage with student groups and to develop leadership skills are absolutely critical to their success. It’s an important part of the college experience under any variety of circumstances. To borrow a phrase that I heard from the Bennion Center, "We need to remain socially close while being physically distant during these times."

Similar to the changes that we've made to the curriculum and our approaches to a variety of services from campus, student activities need to be modified in order to incorporate public health guidance. And they're going to need to be mostly virtual for the foreseeable future. Departments and student leaders have really been creative over the summer. They've been doing a lot of planning and testing and retooling of some different approaches, and I'm really thrilled that today we can share with you a number of examples of what has been working to help foster some thoughts about how departments can engage with students. And how student groups and clubs can approach some of their operations. I think collectively, we can come up with some great ways to remain engaged, but to do so safely.

One example that I hope everyone has heard of, our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion department, has really started a wonderful effort over the summer that has expanded into a social media campaign called #CheckonYourUCrew. This campaign has been really important to emphasize the need to connect with individuals and to think about some self-care and how to connect with support services. I know that work will continue.

One of my favorite events of the fall is always the College of Fine Arts, Arts Bash that typically takes place on Marriott Plaza. Students are introduced to the Arts Pass, a program where they can use their student ID to access the Arts from across campus. I know this year, the team will be creating a video that will share all of that information and students, after watching, can be presented with a link to join a drawing for some swag. They’ll also have people check-in at a few other places on campus for more chances to win, but still get out the message that the arts will be vibrant during the fall, even if delivered in different modalities.

Those are just a few examples, and I'm going to have our speakers go into detail with some of their examples. Our speakers today are Erica Anderson, director, Student Leadership and Involvement. Clare Lemke, director, LGBT Resource Center. Todd Justesen, director, Housing and Residential Education. Jess Turuc, director, Fraternity and Sorority Life. And Brittany Badger Gleed, director, Center for Student Wellness. We were going to be joined by one of our student leaders who wasn't able to be here, but they have delivered their messaging to Erica who will deliver it for him. And so, I'm going to go ahead and turn the time over to Erica. Thank you so much.

Erica Anderson

Thank you, Lori. It's so good to be here with all of you. I'm Erica, and I serve as the director for Student Leadership and Involvement here on campus. As Lori mentioned, this fall we're encouraging all of our student engagement opportunities to occur in a presence-free or virtual manner. Student organizations and student leaders who may be watching this, as you think about this, about how you might deliver your engagement opportunities to peer students, I want you to know that we will be offering a variety of tools to support you. We'll be offering some specific guidance for student organizations, we'll be offering virtual engagement information and ideas and resources, so you will not be alone in figuring out how to navigate this. And we're really excited to see what you come up with and all of the great ideas that you have as we know that the opportunities you provide are incredibly crucial to the vibrancy of our campus and contribute to that sense of belonging for so many students.

Today, I thought it might be helpful to share a few examples of the ideas that are already in motion and the ways that we are seeing student groups and student leaders thriving, as they think about innovation and creativity and serving other students. This past week, we hosted our first ever Virtual Involvement Fair, and this was an opportunity for new students to explore involvement opportunities in the online platform Campus Connect. I had the opportunity to pop in and see how that was going. Essentially, it's an opportunity for recognized student organizations to have kind of mini breakout sessions with students who are interested in getting involved to learn about what those involvement opportunities look like and how those opportunities look while we're virtual, and it was very successful. So, for any students who didn't get a chance to do that, or even if you did and you want to join again, we hope that you will join us for that.

The next virtual involvement fair will be held on Sept. 9, 2020, and all students are welcome to join and get involved with that opportunity. That would be the event previously known as Plaza Fest, which is usually held on the Union Plaza. This is an opportunity to really meet those outcomes in those needs virtually.

I also wanted to share with all of you some exciting opportunities that ASUU will be offering this fall. A couple of those things that are coming out from our campus events board, there'll be hosting a Utah's Got Talent show. So, for any students out there who are performers or who want to share their talents, this would be an opportunity to engage with that. Student film festivals and lots of social media education and awareness campaigns. Those are just a few of the pieces that are coming up, which will be exciting.

Then as Lori mentioned, we were going to have a student join us for this afternoon, and he is unable to be here, so I wanted it to take a few minutes and share with you some of the thoughts that he had as to how he is making the most of his experience in his leadership position. As Lori mentioned, we know that leadership and engagement are such important parts of the student experience, and I share this with all of you to really communicate that it's still is possible to develop leadership skills and become engaged on campus, even in this new virtual setting that we are a part of now.

Just a few thoughts from our ASUU director of Sustainability, his name is Alex Farley. He wanted to share some types of promotion that are working well for him, as he reaches other students. He highly recommended the use of the platform Microsoft Teams as a great way to connect with students and even administrators on campus. He mentioned that email chains may be difficult to keep track of, and so keeping emails concise and short, not being afraid to utilize social media and tools like Campus Connect that is our resource, and to not forget about the power of peer-to-peer communication, how you would connect with one another utilizing those opportunities to keep that effective communication going.

A couple of the ideas that Alex mentioned when he talked about what his experience has looked like so far as a student leader in this virtual realm, he talked about not forgetting about opportunities to better campus. So, while we may not be able to gather in person as much in the fall, there are still opportunities to improve campus as a whole. If you are interested in exploring what that might look like, I'd encourage you to get in touch with us at ASUU and Student Leadership & Involvement, so we can help you think through how does one go about bettering campus, especially in the virtual realm, because I've seen some really interesting things coming out from our student government, even the summer.

A couple of opportunities for engaging your teams and your student organizations are persistent icebreakers. We know that sometimes these can be a little bit awkward, but they're really effective in building community and helping students to get to know one another. There are a variety of online games that can be used to help students get to know one another. Then a fun idea that Alex shared with me as a getting to know you activity, we have all heard of speed dating, and so really taking that opportunity and adapting it for how students make friends. I like to think of it as like a speed get to know you session.

Alex suggested using Zoom's breakout sessions and having some prepared questions ahead of time for students and team members to be able to get to know each other as they join student organizations and various boards within student government. I'll just close by saying a couple of things that this student leader is particularly excited about this upcoming year of some things that are planned. So, they will still be engaging in Recycle Rice-Eccles, but this will be a really amazing social media campaign that's educational about how we recycle and compost and what environmental sustainability looks like when we're doing football and things like that. There will be a sustainable speaker series that will take place virtually. They have also engaged in some youth education services in their programming and made videos for continuing education about how you recycle and how you live a sustainable life.

Those are just a couple of the ideas, and I know that we've received some questions today about, what would it look like for a student group to possibly host someone on campus or to do tabling or things like that, and what I'll share is that we are in process of developing some specific guidelines for recognized student organizations for fall that will be shareable in the near future. If you're a student organization and you're looking for that direction, that will be coming. Just hang tight, we'll be sending that fairly soon.

Then I just want to say in closing that I think there are some incredible, innovative ways that we can engage virtually, and these are some examples of the ideas we've already seen. And so, I can't wait to see what our student organization community comes up with. It'll be a pleasure to work with you and brainstorm with you how you deliver your engagement opportunities to the entire student body. With that, I'm going to turn it over to my awesome colleague, Clare Lemke. Thank you so much.

Clare Lemke

Thank you, Erica. As we've mentioned before, my name is Clare Lemke, and I am the director of the LGBT Resource Center. We were talking very briefly about how we're seeing some of our students support services pivot in this virtual or mostly virtual environment. I'll be speaking mostly from my lens of reporting to two divisions, Student Affairs and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Really the conversation has been, how do we keep connected to support resources with a focus on centering the needs of those students from historically marginalized communities? Knowing that we're seeing different needs emerge in this moment around COVID-19 and largely virtual instruction.

A lot of that has already begun, even in the spring. For example, the Dream Center held some virtual town halls that allowed students and community members to have a chance to ask questions through social media about policies that were impacting undocumented and DACA students. My office, in particular, we found that collaboration has really been key in this moment of making sure that communication is going out to students about what resources they have available. So, we've held several sessions with different campus partners, including the University Counseling Center, the Trans Health Program and Student Success Advocates that really give a space for students to come and ask about what questions they have about resources that are available for LGBTQ+ students on campus. We actually just held one this week that was focused on incoming students. It was a really great way to connect with new students and to answer their questions since a lot of those traditional orientation fairs and things weren't able to happen this summer. We're hoping to repeat that session the first week of classes, so please keep an eye out for that, if that's of interest to you.

Something else that we've been, as Lori mentioned, we're testing out virtual drop-in hours this summer. I'd also take a look at what the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs has been doing there. They have a great model, where every Wednesday night they get together and talk about a really fun topic like comics. But it's also a space where transfer students have been coming to ask questions about what they might need in that process of transitioning to campus.

A really exciting opportunity that I'm so enthused to be a part of is going forward in the fall, piloting a one-stop-shop type virtual dropping hours with the Center for Student Wellness as well as some other partners. The idea is that every lunch hour of the week, students can come and connect with a variety of staff from a variety of different offices represented. That's something that we're really enthused to be a part of.

Another part when thinking about centering student needs is just imagining the variety of needs that students might have. Then making sure that we're being really intentional in what kind of support we're providing. For example, we are currently working on identifying private space on campus for those times where we might have a student who has a virtual meeting or a virtual event to go to but does not have the necessary technology or privacy in their living space to attend. Really making sure we're meeting students where they're at.

Another large piece has been just the continued focus on basic needs and making sure that those are being met, including some of those newer needs that are coming in, as people are experiencing strain in the pandemic. The U Pantry has remained open with some wonderful produce items, even this summer. We've seen the library and the Student Success Advocates work very hard to mail out laptops for students and WiFi hotspots. My division of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is going to be passing out some welcome back care packages, include some COVID safety supplies. Really, again, focusing on what students need, where they at, and going from there. That's just a little bit of what's been going on, and that focus on making sure that as students are transitioning back into classes and that they're aware of the resources and that we're being nimble in changing how we provide those, to make sure that we're being responsive to the current situation. With that, I'm going to go ahead and pass it along to Todd.

Todd Justesen

Hi. I'm Todd Justesen. I'm the director of Residential Education here at the University of Utah. Within the residence halls, we have what they call the RLM, which is the Residential Learning Model. Think of the curriculum we want the students to learn as soon as they start, how we want to continue to educate them, all the way to the end of the year, it's called the RLM, and it's our book that we utilize. The RLM has all the lesson plans that we utilize in order to go through multiple things like, how to get along with others, how to explore your own identities. Multiple programs across campus.

One of the things I'm going to highlight today is called the Utah Fan Am I. All of our floor meetings will be online. We're going to be utilizing Zoom feature, so we'll be able to expose the students to the rights and responsibilities of the residence halls, but we also need to try to get them to come out while wearing face coverings, as well as observing social distancing. One of the programs is Utah Fan Am I, it's a way to positively impact the University of Utah campus while observing that “Ute” is actually an indigenous tribe and how to positively make sure we use appreciation rather than appropriation language. The program would be held in a large-scale environment. Traditionally, it's a bunch of people in a big room and we all hold it at one time. Instead, it'd be something that we'd extend hours. Rather than be one hour, we probably extend it to maybe three or four hours. We then designate this building can come at this time then this building can come at this time.

It'd almost be like a queuing system so only a small group of students would enter at a time. It'd be almost like a curator of museum. In the large-scale place, we would filter a certain amount of students in, they'd then be able to go while six foot apart, wearing face coverings, and they'd be able to hear a little bit more about how the University of Utah utilizes the name “Ute” within our name and the tribal sovereignty? A little bit further is how to make sure that we do use appreciation rather than appropriation when we go to games.

So, they go all the way through and as they come out the other side, we'd have somebody over there that'd be able to say, "All right. Four people came out, so four more people can come in." So, we'd slowly filter through so that we have all the distancing using clean standards, but still get them out of the rooms. But we also are taking almost all of our plans and trying to say, "How could we virtually offer this so students can still have the same great experience in getting to know others?” Now, we're going to pass to Jess.

Jess Turuc

Thanks, Todd. Hey, y'all, I'm Jess Turuc, and I proudly serve this institution as the director of Fraternity and Sorority Life. I know you could be doing a number of things right now, so thanks for hanging out with us during this time to learn more about the fall.

As we think about fraternities and sororities, we're thinking about 18 organizations and about 1,500 students who are all preparing to engage with new members and recruit in a virtual setting. These organizations will be doing this on Zoom, utilizing the future of breakout rooms to connect and have conversations with potential new members. If you are interested in being one of those new members, check out the registration links on our website. Our chapters will also be using Zoom to virtually program, so their philanthropy efforts will all be virtually through some kind of method. And chapter leadership meetings, leadership development, and how they're going to be engaging as brothers and sisters to build a stronger community, they're doing that all virtually. So far, it's looking like through Madden tournaments and yoga classes, among other things, but I don't want to spill all the beans.

As Erica mentioned, with our student organizations, our fraternities and sororities are also thinking about ways that they could do some presence-free activities to engage members. So, all fun things to look forward to. Now, I know that some of you are curious about Greek housing, which is just adjacent to campus. And so, I want to share a little bit with you all about that.

As we think about those fraternity and sorority homes, there are 13 of them, and they are not owned or operated by the university. They are instead owned and operated by alumni advisors who serve on a housing corporation to support these properties and to support the students that are living in them.

We've had several conversations with chapter leaders and these housing boards presidents to really talk about what is happening, what is the university doing and how can we kind of supplement and help in some ways, and they are treating this virus very seriously with a lot of caution. They're purchasing PPE in bulk, everything from face coverings to individual hand sanitizers for members to the large hand sanitizers, really just to think about how are we creating a safe environment for our members. They're creating contingency plans around meals, around who can visit, when they can visit and also if they can visit. Safety is really the forefront of everyone's mind at the Greek community.

Just to touch on that visitor piece, each of the organizations have their own plans and how they'll implement that and how they'll proceed forward. There's a large consensus that visitors will not be able to visit the chapter facilities for the foreseeable future. Again, thank you for hanging out with us. I will now turn the time over to Brittany from the Center of Student Wellness.

Brittany Badger Gleed

Great. Thanks, Jess. Hey, everyone. My name is Brittany, she, her pronouns. I'm the director of the Center for Student Wellness. Thank you so much for tending on this late Friday to hear a little bit more about this. I know this has been a conversation that many of us are having about how we engage with our students in the fall in a way that's safe and still be able to cultivate those really strong connections that are so important within the University of Utah.

Just to wrap it up with some of the examples, what the Center for Student Wellness, we've been having a lot of conversations about things that we're going to be trying out for the fall, things that we implemented in the spring, and many of these different engagement opportunities mirror a lot of the examples that are being shared today, but I just wanted to offer up one last idea of just to maybe spur some creativity.

We are the primary host of the Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign on campus in partnership with everyone on this webinar and so many others that are watching today. This year, as we were trying to think through how we would deliver a month-long campaign in a presence for a universal environment, one of the things that came to mind is that we have a really great opportunity to really be able to recruit more people to be a part of this conversation in a lot of different virtual spaces. For this year, what we're going to be doing for the entire month of October is we will be hosting all of our events and engagement opportunities in presence-free spaces, whether that's doing Q&A panels on Zoom, doing a social media, awareness campaigns or some sort of a contest that's online.

One of the things that we are going to be launching is a virtual engagement toolkit for all the many partners, student leaders, and just interested students across campus who want to be a part of this effort. What we will be doing in September is we'll be hosting some virtual info sessions where anyone who's interested in being a part of this campaign can attend and just learn a little bit more about domestic violence, why it's an important issue that we need to talk about here at the University of Utah, and ways that we can engage with our larger community, but also within our spheres of influence, with our peers, with our families, with our suitemates and the people that we are encountering on a day-to-day basis, because that's where change starts.

Included in this virtual guide, we're going to be including everything from conversation starters that you can have with your peers about domestic violence or red flags, or how to intervene when you see someone who might be causing harm to others and how we disrupt these systems of violence. It could also include different ways to host virtual events on your own. So, an event planning 101 in the virtual sphere is a type of guide.

For those who do not feel like they are event planners, that's OK, we're going to come up with some ideas and include some different strategies that you can employ within your groups. Then we also will have a whole collection of digital assets that at a minimum, if you just want to engage online, please help us to share out the content, hold online conversations with your peers on Instagram, Facebook, whatever your social media of choice is.

We will be including a lot of examples in that, and it's going to be in partnership with older students on campus. We have a peer education team that works with our office called the ACEs Peer Health Education Team. When they get back to the virtual campus in August, they're going to help us to really create this toolkit. So, that it's something that's going to be able to be a supportive resource for everyone across campus. I know we're running short on time, so that's just a little snippet of something that we're doing in our office and conversations that we're having. With that, I will turn the time over to Lori.

Lori McDonald

Thank you so much, everyone. I very much appreciate your sharing these creative ideas. I've been hearing from our peer educators they've got some great ideas about ways to encourage more of a peer-to-peer campaign about how to follow some public health strategies, and I'm really, really appreciate it. I think ASUU today is launching the hashtag #FaceCoveringFriday. I'm seeing nods from my colleagues, so we'll watch for that. Thank you. Thank you very, very much.

These ideas about utilizing virtual and digital tools, but doing so in a supportive way, are very much appreciated. From scheduling different times, thinking about how to space things out when they do need to be in person, providing a multitude of guidance, documents, and assistance, I very, very much appreciate it and know that our students are going to come up with some great ideas that will need to emulate this fall.

Thank you very, very much for joining us. Again, being socially close while being physically distant is our ultimate goal in order to support student engagement, sense of belonging, leadership development, and truly their wellness and our wellness, because I know we do this because we care about working with students as well. Thank you so much to all of our partners. I hope these examples were inspiring. Be well. Thanks.

Return to Campus webinar series schedule:

Thursday, August 13 | 8:30-9 a.m.
Thursday, August 20 | 2-2:30 p.m.

Registration is no longer needed. This event and the future webinars can all be watched on The webinars will be recorded, posted, and available for on-demand viewing shortly after the event.