January 5, 2021

Student Life pivots to overcome COVID-19 challenges 

Although students faced a fall semester different than any other, the UM Office of Student Life kept them connected to campus despite the difficulties presented by COVID-19.  

The pandemic prevented large in-person events from happening, so Student Life rolled out numerous virtual offerings to keep students engaged while keeping them as safe as possible. Student Life organized virtual trivia nights, a comedian, a mental health town hall, a virtual escape room, a murder-mystery event and more 

“More than ever, it’s important for students to take advantage of opportunities to connect through events and student organization meetings. Those opportunities are not going to happen organically like they would in a normal semester,” said Jenny Bell, director of Student Life. “It will take more effort, but the end result of meeting others and finding something you are passionate about is worth it!” 

The office’s efforts in the fall were the latest in its journey to adapt and serve students during an unprecedented time.  

When the effects of COVID-19 began to impact Alabama last spring, Student Life was required to quickly alter its programs to serve current and incoming students in the face of the pandemic.  

In the last several weeks of the spring semester and throughout the summer and fall semesters, Student Life made several alterations.  

Because in-person new student orientation sessions were not possible, Student Life worked with the Office of Admissions to hold all orientations virtually. The office also finished orientation leader training via Zoom, and worked on ways to engage students in orientation groups via Group Me and Zoom. Student Life partnered with Academic Affairs to offer remote advising for new students.  

During Welcome Weekend in August 2020, Student Life organized small, socially distanced orientation leader group meetings, campus tours and outdoor events. All other aspects of Welcome Weekend were held virtually.  

When students returned to campus last fall, the Student Life office coordinated virtual sorority and fraternity recruitment and encouraged all student organizations to hold virtual events whenever possible.  

“While this was not the original plan we had, which changed all pre-recruitment events and even bid day, we tried to offer the best experience for everyone involved to celebrate these women and their new home,” said senior social work major Carson Turner, a Panhellenic recruitment counselor and member of the Panhellenic executive team. “We hope that the women who went through are happy in their homes and are having an incredible semester despite the whirlwind changes.” 

All in-person student life events were limited to 20 people, followed social distancing, cleaning and contact tracing guidelines and were required to be approved in advance by the Student Life office.