by Sara Patterson, News Editor
August 11, 2020
As students arrive on campus this week, they will begin adapting to the many changes implemented by Ouachita’s Health Monitoring and Action Team (HMAT) to keep the community safe in the midst of COVID-19.
Freshmen students will still have a “Welcome to Ouachita’s World” or “WOW” week, but it will be condensed to the weekend before classes start on Monday.
“WOW leaders will not be able to help move students’ items into the building, and the students are allowed to have 2 move-in helpers in the building with them,” Hannah Pilcher, resident director of Frances Crawford, said. “However, it will feel similar in that so many upperclassmen students will be around to welcome students as they drive onto campus and will be ready to help them have a great WOW weekend.”
While the large gatherings that Ouachita typically hosts to welcome freshman students cannot happen, freshmen still need to find community in their new environment.
“I think that this year it will be especially important for freshmen to stay connected with their WOW families, to join life groups available through Campus Ministries, to utilize small study groups with classmates, and to get to know the people on their specific hall and attend any hall gatherings that the RAs will be putting together,” Pilcher said. “We want students to be safe while also building relationships, so it will be a balance of spending time with people and implementing safety precautions.”
When using communal spaces in any dorm buildings, such as laundry rooms and study lounges, students are expected to wear masks. However, students will not be required to wear masks when in their dorm rooms.
Because Ouachita was originally created to facilitate groups of people, whether it be in classrooms, JPAC, the Student Center, or the cafeteria, masks must now be worn in most spaces on campus.
Dr. Justin Keeler, Assistant Professor of Finance in the Hickingbotham School of Business, conducted research through surveys emailed to Ouachita students over the past several months. These surveys indicate that wearing a mask is a difficult change, especially for students coming from states with more lenient guidelines.
“From my research findings, people, in general, struggle significantly with wearing a mask,” Keeler said. “It is radically different for our culture. As such, it is to be expected students will find OBU’s strict mask policy to be challenging for several reasons. For example, a student that comes from a state with less stringent mask mandates may struggle more than a student from a state with increased restrictions.”
Keeler also learned about the psychological effects of wearing a mask through his surveys. With these psychological challenges, it’s important that students support each other.
“Be encouragers of your peers. Possibly one of your peers or even you may opt to skip a class and stay in the dorm to ‘take a break’ on having to wear a mask,” Keeler said. “If this occurs, reach out to an instructor and/or staff member at OBU and let them know so they can help you or your peer.”
Students who find this or any other part of campus life psychologically challenging can access counseling services with the option of in-person appointments or telecounseling by contacting Office Manager of Student Development Vickie Davis.
“If you need a counseling appointment please call me at 245-5220 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I can set you up with a counseling appointment with any of our counselors,” Davis said. “If you need accommodations you may do so the same way, call me or send me an email. Please let me know that you need your appointment to be for accommodations. I can also set appointments for the Dean of Students, Ricky Rogers, and the housing director, Caitlin Hetzel.”
For the best possible campus environment, students should practice patience with themselves, their peers, and their professors as everyone adapts to the new guidelines.
“Be mindful that some of your peers and instructors may psychologically struggle with wearing a mask. A mask by nature conceals a person’s identity and can present challenges because of individual differences,” Keeler said. “Know your instructors are trying to do their best job and have a big smile and a heart of love behind the mask to educate and inspire you.”