“It’s rewarding to be a member of a team to make students feel part of a community,” said Madison Lazenby ’23, one of five remote student advisors (RSAs). Initiated this semester by the Residential Life Office, the RSA program includes two sophomores, one junior, and two seniors whose job is to be a friendly point of contact with students studying remotely, keep them engaged with the community on campus and off, and connect them to resources and events.
Jae Jaeger, an area director who manages the program, says the RSAs not only reach out individually to the approximately 50 students assigned to each, but are “creating space together” with them, soliciting their ideas, and developing programming that allows for interaction among them. Some of the successful endeavors have included speed-friending, game nights, and study room Zooms in which students gather to work and share resources.
Approximately 240 students are currently studying off-campus, the majority in the United States. Three of the RSAs are also studying remotely and, of course, all five had the experience of remote learning in the spring of 2020. Jaeger said the program is especially important for first-year students for whom making connections and finding community may be a bit more difficult. For international students, Wi-Fi connections and time differences are additional hurdles.
Yvenide Belizaire ’21, who has been off campus for two years, contacts her group members weekly individually, holds “office hours” for drop-in Zooms on Saturday and Sunday, and plans events with other RSAs – activities like a friendship panel hosted with Lazenby and another RSA, Sabrina Yvellez ’22, focused on issues such as how to navigate when you are an outsider. She updates them on the online activities she has participated in and enjoyed, including Mindful Music.
"You can definitely feel disconnected,” Belizaire said. “Those we have been able to reach out to really enjoy it – others figure out how to be remote on their own … Many have jobs in restaurants or [with] car ride services. We are making a difference in the lives of those who do show up. It’s just been nice to connect with students.”
Lazenby’s experience has been similar. “I want to help those feeling left behind. It’s important that we are reaching out to remote students rather than waiting for them to come to us, and it’s important to consider what their barriers might be – they may be existing in a completely different world.”