In 2020, Trinity’s New Student Orientation (NSO) and Welcome Week have looked different.
Understatement of the year? Maybe. But these changes have been a necessary–though sometimes challenging–effort to help stem the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
First, move-in was expanded to two days, to help de-densify the process. Each student had to get tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to move-in and acquire their Tiger Cards. There was no Team Trinity helping students move in, while students were limited to just one guest at a time accompanying students into their residence hall rooms–where they are living one person to a room.
“It’s tough not seeing the friendly faces of Team Trinity helping students,” says Esther Kim, assistant director for orientation programs in Trinity’s Office of Student Involvement.
But in other ways, taking a “different” approach to opening Trinity’s doors has opened fresh avenues for students and families to engage with their new Trinity world.
Nicole Fratto ’13, senior assistant director of Admissions, says her team started revamping the buildup to move-in over the summer. These changes affected everything from advising and registration to summer send-offs, typically held in person, region-to-region. Instead, Trinity started hosting webinars and a summer parent series to introduce parents and students to Trinity’s support and academic programs, as well as regional and affinity socials- identity and faith-based online gatherings– turned out to be wildly popular.
“This has been a major opportunity to engage with families in new ways,” Fratto says, “We know students have been using our group chats, downloading our social media kits and Snapchat filters, so they are still connecting and having fun.”
For students on and off campus, Trinity has worked to preserve and even expand access to much of the programming students are used to enjoying during NSO and Welcome Week.
“At the core of the Student Programming Board, the mission statement speaks to getting the entire University community involved, and that is still true given these odd times,” says Shannon Twumasi, coordinator for student programs for Student Involvement. “Working with SPB, we focus on engaging everyone, regardless of where they’re at.”
All the usual staples for new students' first week at Trinity–Tower Climb, matriculation, and the Reading TUgether lecture–were present, just in a virtual space. Additionally, Student Programming Board ended up expanding its slate of entertainment for Welcome Week: students can enjoy four movie nights hosted on a specialized casting platform, a student-produced play, virtual escape rooms, Drag Queen Bingo with Alyssa Edwards from RuPaul’s Drag Race,, a pair of performing mentalists on YouTube live, an interactive murder-mystery event, and even a Trinity-themed Trivia night.
Even the Student Involvement Fair, where student organizations typically gather on the Coates Esplanade to recruit new members, has gotten in on the virtual action.
“Some students involved in these orgs have been disappointed they can’t come back to campus,” Twumasi says. “We are looking for ways to ensure they feel empowered and providing ways in which they can still make an impact. And this virtual involvement fair is one of the ways they can accomplish that.’”
Building an equitable community
COVID-19 isn’t the only topic that’s prompting universities to have new conversations about accessibility. Trinity has also been taking action to expand access to training for topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
This year, NSO and Welcome Week experienced a marked change with a new DEI component. The University hosted workshops for more than 120 on-campus resident assistants (RA) and student leaders, as well as faculty and staff, and held a lecture featuring Jamie Washington.
Washington, the director and founder of the Washington Consulting Group, an internationally-acclaimed diversity consulting group, spoke about ways to build a more accepting and inclusive University community.
Kim says that new students also undertook online DEI training modules addressing the topics of diversity awareness, sensitivity awareness, and LGBTQ support. “Due to the positive feedback we’ve gotten here from students, faculty and staff, we’re also now working to make this training available to all students on a regular basis going forward.”
Trinity remains committed to providing similar outlets for growth, self-reflection, and safe spaces for dialogue on DEI-related issues.
Adjusting to a new life
This messaging is already resonating with students like Piper Thomas ’24, from Salt Lake City.
As a first-year, she’s not entirely sure what she’s going to study (she has her eye on economics), but she knows she is interested in social justice and equitable representation in the media.
“I’m a ballet dancer, and you don’t see many black women doing that,” Thomas says. “The first time I saw Misty Copeland [principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre], that changed my world. I want to do that for other girls.”
For Thomas, the summer leading up to move-in week mave have been stressful, but she’s still excited for life at Trinity. She already loves campus “for the colors, the atmosphere, the vibe.” And she instantly connected to fellow students over a group chat this summer.
“I’m already making best friends. We all come from different backgrounds, but we almost all feel like the same person,” Thomas says.
As for move-in, Thomas doesn’t mind having her own room due to a de-densified campus, “I can do whatever I want with it!” she says. “But there are rules that are going to be tough.”
Jesus Lozano ’21, from Houston, is one of the students who’ll be tasked with keeping those rules in place. Now in his third year of being an RA, he’s hoping to preserve as much of the Trinity Experience for his residents as possible. “Over the years, I think I’ve just kept getting better as an RA,” he says. “I wanted to be a guiding hand for first-years. I know how difficult the transition from high school to college can be, and now it’s going to be tougher than ever.”
“This semester, I’m amping up what I like to do even more,” Lozano continues. “I know students are going to get tired of Zoom. They’re going to get tired of being in their dorms all day. They’re going to get exhausted from being alone.”
So, Lozano is planning on spicing up his usual online interactions with hall residents.
“I want to make sure that students feel heard. I’m trying to show them more appreciation: getting them candy, hosting events that are actually interactive and fresh.”
And, Lozano says he’s not forgetting about supporting the Tigers who aren’t on campus.
“Even though you’re not here, you’re still home at Trinity,” Lozano says, as if speaking directly to his classmates. “Trinity is about the people. You might be scattered, but there are still mutual bonds between us. The people are the ones who make and give us all these shared experiences.”
Parent Marie Wehrung knows the value of these Trinity bonds firsthand. Her older daughter Olivia Wehrung ’22 is joined at Trinity this year by youngest daughter, Gaby Wehrung ’24.
Both Tigers came to Trinity for familiar reasons: the strong academic support, the small class sizes, and the financial support. Both daughters even have friends from hometown Houston at school there.
For both daughters, Marie says, 2020 has felt like a completely new move-in experience.
“I think Trinity has planned about as well as you can plan during times like this. They had campus mapped out in terms of where we needed to park, how we were moving in, and where we could go.”
Olivia, who lives in City Vista, already had roommates. “They faced different challenges this year, like determining who was bringing the blender and the other appliances,” Wehrung says. “She was excited to return to school, to be reunited with her friends, and to set up the apartment. We knew she’d be looking for us to make a graceful exit soon after the car was unloaded, so that’s what we did.”
With first-year Gaby, it was hard not having Team Trinity to help move her bags, while also having to visit her room just one guest at a time. “As parents, we felt a little cheated at not being able to see her over the course of the weekend, and feel good about her being settled in. We knew we needed to be gone by dinnertime, so we supported her as best we could in setting up her room, then left before our carriage turned back into a pumpkin at 6 p.m.” But the family is planning on having regular video calls to stay in touch.
“This, of all years, is not a conventional year. We’re not trying to be helicopter parents, but we’re also trying to support our daughters,” Marie says. “They both REALLY want to be able to stay on campus for the entire semester, so they know to mask up, to be responsible, to stay safe. We’re all doing the best we can to get through this unprecedented time.”
As Trinity gears up for another year, staff are already looking for ways to apply the lessons learned from navigating this new reality.
“Some of these things we’ve implemented this year, I see us continuing in the years ahead,” Kim says. “We want to make programs accessible to everyone, and this has been a great chance for us to work on that.”
So, whenever life at Trinity does eventually return to normal, “normal” might still look different– but in a good way.
“This summer, we’ve actually been able to connect with so many more people digitally, and get them the information they need much further in advance than we’ve ever done before,” Fratto says. “Definitely a silver lining.”