Community through a digital barrier

Canceled. The end of spring semester. The Belltower Bash. The Johnny Holmes dance. The list goes on and on with what has been canceled because of coronavirus.

It is no secret that community building is hard with the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but community is far from canceled. Student organizations and co-curricular activities have had to come up with creative ways to stay safe and get closer. 

Concordia College has had to impose restrictions on students living in the dorms to prevent communal spread of the coronavirus. These restrictions range from limiting how many people can be in a common space, to prohibiting guests in dorm rooms. The hall director’s assistant for Erickson Hall, Gunner Aas, talked about how the residence life staff are still trying to make community happen in light of the college’s new policies.

A lot of the community building this year falls on students taking the initiative. Floor meetings and community-building activities are almost exclusively on Zoom. 

During a regular year, Aas explained getting people to show up to community-building events is hard enough as it is. With these events now on Zoom, it has become even harder. 

“Some students, and rightfully so, will not go to a trivia night because they have a bio assignment due day 8 am the next day,” said Aas. 

Because large events have been limited, Aas said that that communities have become “more personal.” Aas told a story of his experience his neighbors. 

“I got a knock on my door, and it was a group of five soccer guys introducing themselves,” said Aas. “Then, they went on to the next door.” This was something he had never seen before. 

The Concordia Choir at a recent test recording for their virtual Christmas Concert | @concordiachoir on Instagram

Michael Culloton, the director of choral activities at Concordia College, shared how the music department has been making changes to its regularly scheduled community building. The Concordia Choir usually has a retreat in September to foster community early in the year. 

“The purpose of those retreats has been twofold: one, of course, is musical time together; the other, and I think more important element for the fall retreat, is the social time together and getting to know each other,” said Culloton.

 With the college’s current restrictions, this retreat had to be heavily modified. Culloton decided to have the entire retreat take place over Zoom.

“We did a show and tell on Zoom where everybody got 30 seconds to share something that might reflect their personality,” Culloton said about one of the many activities the choir did for their retreat.

The choir broke into several different breakout rooms throughout the retreat to help divide the 62-person ensemble. They formed “choir families” to encourage inter-section bonding with new and old members. Later, each section went to a breakout room to get to know each other better. 

More than any other year, Culloton is relying on the music-making process to bring the group together. 

“I think if we make good music together, that is a community-building activity,” said Culloton. “Choirs that make good music together are going to be bonded by that music.”

With restrictions in place to prevent large group gatherings, a lot of the activities that regularly happen at Concordia have had to take on different forms. The lead commissioner of the Campus Events Commission, Lance Morlock, talked about CEC’s role in the Concordia community.

“Our role is really fostering community here on campus and providing an outlet for students to take a break from the world,” said Morlock. 

Whether it be grocery bingo or the Belltower Bash, CEC organizes dozens of on-campus events each semester for students to take part in. The bulk of CEC’s planning process for events takes place in May in anticipation of the next year. Lance explained how CEC had to prepare for the college’s uncertain future at that time. 

“We were planning the events in multiple different ways,” said Morlock. “We were planning them for if they were in person, we were also planning them in a separate way for if they were going to be virtual, and then we were also trying to plan hybrids of both.”

Across campus, the message is clear: community is different now. But Aas shared his optimism despite the college’s current restrictions. 

“I’m excited and hopeful we can get back to having these larger group gatherings and people being able to dive into their communities headfirst,” said Aas.

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