My View Inside the Residential Commons

This blog post is a part of a series dedicated to highlighting the personal experiences of Maguire Center student staff member Rylee Bailey’s personal experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first post of a three-part mini-series that highlights her return to campus.
I loathe self-help books. However, every now and then I will trudge through their mediocre prose searching for a muse hidden in their promise of impossible transformations. This summer while still at home I read Glennon Doyle’s most recent book Untamed. While I expected it to be just another memoir of cliché aphorisms, she did offer one hard truth that resonated with me: “We can do hard things.”
Living in a global pandemic isn’t easy. However, we are all navigating our way through it one way or another. Since being back on campus, I have learned that it is finally time to let go of what I previously considered normal and accept what the world has to offer now. I thought I should write about what life has looked like since moving back to SMU for the fall semester from the perspective of the many roles that I play on-campus and in life. We are all doing hard things, and these are just a few of the ones I have experienced lately.

Inside the Residential Commons

My friends and I with our Faculty in Residence Willie Baronet enjoying some Blow Pops at an Armstrong Commons event!

As a resident assistant (RA), my job description includes building relationships with students, assisting in the administrative operations of the building, enforcing policies and confronting behavior, along with any other expectations outlined by SMU’s department of Residence Life and Students Housing (RLSH). In response to COVID-19, RAs on campus have now been drafted to the pandemic front lines. Now I and hundreds of other SMU RAs, are tasked with the onerous job of reporting fellow students found hanging out in groups larger than a designated space allows, violating universal mask mandates, and venturing into other residential commons to which we are not officially assigned as residents.

I applied to become an RA because I loved the way SMU’s residential commons system facilitated a sense of community and belonging. I wanted to use this role to create the same feeling I experienced my freshman and sophomore year of college for other students. Community building looks quite different now than it did my freshman and sophomore year at SMU as university, local, and state policies make it impossible to gather in large groups. However, these protocols have not hindered the ability to connect with others and develop relationships in a safe and healthy way here at SMU.

 

First day of class from my room!

I think the pandemic has allowed people to grow closer together than I have seen before. I have experienced and witnessed selfless acts of kindness and love, and I have also felt a sense of communal empathy. Everybody is going through their own hardships and challenges, and it has been such a privilege to see people come together to acknowledge and validate each other’s experiences and share in the humanity.

If I could use one word to describe what it is like to be human living during a global pandemic, it would be grace. There is no right or wrong way to navigate these troubling times. Everybody has faced their own trials. Parents are learning how to homeschool their children while also working from home. College students are learning how to complete coursework outside of the academic atmosphere. People are ending relationships. Some started running. Others began reading more. High school students missed prom and graduation. People dreaded gaining their “quarantine fifteen.” While everyone is navigating the pandemic differently, I can’t help but assume that we all at least once spent the night crying and asking ourselves, when we will return to the life we once knew as normal?  What brings me hope however is that these responses and frustrations and emotions are all valid. We are surviving a freaking pandemic, kudos to us! There is no shame in not knowing how to go about life during a once-in-a-century global pandemic. We are surviving, and we need to learn how to show ourselves some grace.

Me and all my belongings on move-in day!

As a chronic perfectionist, is has been a difficult feat to show myself some grace. However, I believe it has significantly helped me understand that nobody has it all together right now, and that’s okay. It’s okay to stop beating myself up for not achieving these outlandish goals I set out for myself just because I was stuck at home for five months. It’s okay to rest. It is okay to get a bad grade. It is okay to not know how to handle every situation hurled my way. While there is no doubt that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic with no end in sight, I think we all need a reminder to show ourselves and each other some grace. Nobody is thriving right now, and that is okay. If we all exhibit a little bit of grace, we can get through the worst of this together.

As an RA, I want nothing more than for my residents to live in a safe and healthy environment, especially now. While there are a handful of students who have violated university COVID-19 policy and faced the consequences, I am beyond proud of how my residents have handled the challenges that have been thrown their way and how they have abided by university policy in order to maintain a safe and healthy environment for not only themselves and their close friends, but for all Mustangs.

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