PHOTO BY SARA SHEIKH / THE SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
For the first time, Wilfrid Laurier University students are completing their year in a mainly remote environment. With classes, school services and extracurriculars shifting to online delivery, students are looking at a year like no other.
In these difficult times, Laurier students continue to persevere as they work through the digital semesters. Tasneem Yassin, a fourth year student in youth and children studies notes that although the new digital environment can be difficult, motivation often comes from the little interactions we have with peers and friends.
“The meetings that we have and the organizations that we work with, I feel like that’s what motivates me to get up in the morning…” said Yassin, alluding to her membership with Laurier Brantford’s club, the World University Service of Canada (WUSC.)
The vast majority of courses for the winter term are currently set to be taught remotely, where professors will engage with students over a screen and deliver course content similar to what would be taught during in-person classes.
Courses that require in-person participation are exempt from the remote class list. Multiple safety measures are in place to ensure that students attending in-person classes can learn safely, while adhering to public health guidelines.
Students who are hesitant to return to campus for an in-person class are not required to do so, and will have the option to work with the school to find a suitable alternative.
Classes are not the only thing that is available to students in-person. On-campus study spaces were recently opened on both campuses. These spaces allow students to be on-campus while they learn, and also maintain a sufficient level of social distancing by following various safety procedures.
To visit an on-campus study space, students must register in advance with Laurier’s online registration system, complete a COVID-19 Self Assessment Questionnaire on Laurier’s SAFEHawk app and show proof of completion to the study host.
There are two study spaces being offered on the Brantford campus at One Market and the basement of the Student’s Union.
Outside of changes in learning and academics, student engagement is also different this year. With events and extracurricular clubs shifting online, Laurier students now mainly engage with the community through different digital platforms.
Thrive Week, for example, has come to be known to Laurier students as two weeks consisting of positive mental health activities and education. This year, the event has soared above and beyond the pandemic’s impact, to deliver engaging content to students remotely.
Similarly, many student clubs have transferred programming from in-person to remote delivery with success. Student Union programming, faculty associations and other student clubs are running many of their activities through social media and video conferencing platforms.
“Or even trying to get together with friends and stuff to study – even if it’s online. I feel like it helps, like socializing,” said Yassin.
The Laurier Off-Campus University Students program (LOCUS), is another program that has successfully shifted to the remote environment, while also seeing a significant growth in this pandemic year. There are 10 dons on campus this year, and about 60-90 students per LOCUS community.
For off-campus first year students, the expansion of the LOCUS programs means that they are automatically registered as a LOCUS student and placed into a community with other first years.
Although many first year students have concerns about connecting with other students from home, the LOCUS program runs social and academic programming to help students make friends, be a part of a community, and adapt to university academic life.
Jess Calberry, the Manager of Off-Campus First Year Initiatives, has overseen the growth of the LOCUS program this year while ensuring programming continues and staff and students feel supported.
“I totally understand that this year, more than ever, students are feeling isolated, so LOCUS is working extra hard at finding different ways to connect students who have similar interests together and kind of start building that sense of community that is so prevalent on campus, in a virtual world,” said Calberry.
Some initiatives that the LOCUS program are currently running includes virtual Masterchef competitions, Bingo events and Trivia. Programming is run at different times, on different days, to accommodate a variety of student schedules.
The pandemic caused a series of unexpected events for everyone, and it is difficult to say what the future will look like as we attempt to grasp the present. During these times, Wilfrid Laurier University continues to work to deliver a safe, engaging student experience.
Adam Lawrence, the Dean of Students on Brantford campus, notes that the school and staff have been working to ensure that students can have a safe and successful experience in this new environment. Professors have been finding different ways to engage with students remotely, while many school services continue to operate online.
“If you’re not doing well when it comes to school, if you have questions about things, just stay healthy [and] reach out,” said Lawrence.
Departments such as the Accessible Learning Centre, the Wellness Centre are ready to support students seeking assistance. Although this is a difficult time, Laurier students can still rely on different school services and their own peer networks during this remote year to overcome obstacles together.
“We’re here to support you, no matter whether it’s in person or remote, we want to make sure students have access to all the support they need,” said Lawrence.