SFU Residence and Housing team takes part in a Zoom call.

community

Community key to keeping residence students well-supported during the COVID-19 pandemic

July 17, 2020
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By Leon Kalligerakis

When the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic began to take effect in B.C. and SFU moved to remote service in mid-March, SFU and Fraser International College (FIC) students living in residence were suddenly confronted with a dilemma. While some residents were able to move home or to other safe alternate living accommodations, just under half of the 1,600 residents living on Burnaby Mountain didn’t have this option and needed to remain living within the SFU residence community.

“The health and well-being of our students, staff and volunteers is always top of mind and our top priority is to provide a safe, welcoming and supportive living environment for our residence community,” says Zoe Woods, director, SFU Residence and Housing. “This is especially important in times such as this, when housing options are limited and many of our students have no other housing options. This [pandemic] has also reminded us just how resilient, resourceful and adaptable our students and SFU community really are.”

According to Woods, the SFU community rallied quickly to help students living in residence. Teams from across the university volunteered to keep the front desk staffed by helping with meal deliveries, sort residents’ mail, and so much more.

“This meant the world to everyone,” she says. “Our Residence and Housing staff worked alongside volunteers from various Student Services departments in ways we hadn’t previously. This created new partnerships and supports for students.”

For example, several staff assisted in a “residence calling campaign” to check in and offer resources and supports to the residence community. This assisted staff in making new and meaningful connections with students, and also helped students stay updated and connected to SFU and the residence community.

To meet guidelines set by the Provincial Health Authority (PHA) and the university, Residence and Housing adjusted to their regular services and supports. This involved adjusting operations, increasing cleaning routines, changing deadlines, altering office hours, closing some gathering spaces and monitoring the number of people in any one space. The Dining Services team also worked very hard to adapt to these changes and remain open, moving to a pick-up service so that residents could still access food in a safe way.

“It was stressful for everyone, but residents remained calm and patient, understanding that we were all in this together and that procedures and living expectations had to change to ensure everyone’s safety,” says Woods.

Residence Life staff also continue to live and work alongside students in the residence halls, and are hosting and connecting students to a variety of virtual programs and supports offered both in-house and by supporting SFU partners. Says Woods, “Residence Life staff remain a vital link in our community and keep us connected to the pulse of our residence halls. We are so fortunate that they choose to call SFU home and continue to live and work within our SFU residence community.”

Residence and Housing continues to work with many SFU partners, including Health and Counselling, International Services for Students, FIC, and Campus Public Safety to offer supports and resources to current and prospective resident students. Facilities Services staff also continue to work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep residence spaces clean and functioning.

As Residence transitioned from the spring to the summer term, they now have just over 500 students living on campus and are preparing space for up to 800 or more for the Fall 2020 term. Despite all the changes, Woods indicates that students are adapting and that Residence and Housing staff continue to respond to new opportunities and challenges as they arise and work together to meet the ever-changing environment.

“Our community has truly come together in support of one another and I am excited to see this flourish even further in the months ahead.”