By Emily Vierthaler
— In times of limited face-to-face connection, social contact and the mental and emotional wellbeing that come with it are prized commodities. Since the closure of the AB on March 11th, students staying in the dorms have employed all kinds of creative ways to stay connected with their friends and the wider AUC community. Students have expanded traditional ways of distance communication while devising new ones to fulfill their social needs in isolation.
According to a poll posted by The Herring this Monday, students prefer calling, texting, and meeting face-to-face with appropriate distancing to keep in touch. Less preferred ways include chatting through the conferencing software Zoom during classes, and through group chats on Facebook or WhatsApp.
A plethora of community activities have moved online since AUC’s closure: For example, performance committee OnStage has launched a series of Quarantaine Concerts over Facebook, while Cut is hosting online film club discussions. Meanwhile SlayUC has been offering dance classes through Instagram. In this way, committees are creating online gathering spaces that are not constrained by the limitations of social distancing.
We also see the rise of new efforts to cultivate community ties. Second-year Social Sciences student Jules Declérieux stumbled upon a new way to show support for quarantined students in the dorms struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety and loneliness. When he was closing his in-dorm restaurant project, he erased the sign and replaced it with a heart. Following comments from students that they liked it, he thought it could have “a positive impact to have these hearts sprinkled through the dorms”.
The Many Hearts Campaign was thus born: With a friend, Declérieux posted more than 40 sticky notes with hearts on them around the dorms.
“We as a community have become more lonely in these times of quarantine,” he says. “Safely showing that you’re here for people, and being able to see this physically I hope will at least warm some hearts for a couple of moments throughout the day.”
The Many Hearts Campaign hopes to bring mental health in the AUC community to the forefront of discussion. People who want to participate but don’t have sticky notes or aren’t currently in the dorms can do so through the signup form, where Declérieux will post a heart on their behalf.
Peer Support has also moved services online, offering informal support every day on Facebook from 12:30-13:45. They are also hosting an initiative for Mental Health Awareness week (May 11-17) in which students exchange stories about their mental health journeys. Declérieux promotes Peer Support’s efforts in his own social circle: “I think it’s important to figure out a way to make sure that everyone has someone to talk to or confide in,” he says.
First year Science major Lisa Dondainas also took initiative to bring students together amidst the new climate of social isolation. Several days after AUC’s closure, she created a Whatsapp group titled “Peeps in Dam” to provide a platform for handling practical and social matters for those remaining in the Dorms. Since then, the group has burgeoned to over 130 participants.
Dondainas created the group to fill gaps left by existing platforms such as Excellent and Diverse group on Facebook and the group chat for each study year on WhatsApp.
“[Firstly, it’s for the] kind of discussion [that] does not necessarily interest those who aren’t in the dorms anymore,” she says. “[Secondly], and most importantly, given that half of the AUC population is supposed to be international students [who return home], the population of each year is reduced and each of us probably gets seperated from some friends. So this group was made to enable those who are in the dorms, regardless of their year, to communicate and still feel like a part of a community.”
In the Peeps in Dam group, students are able to make new connections and request quick but necessary help in everyday life. Students ask for things like groceries and bikes, recommend places in Amsterdam that are still open, and share updates about life in the dorms.
Despite the limits of social distancing, students have devised a number of ways to keep and cultivate connections so that the AUC community can continue to thrive in both physical and online spaces.