April 15, 2020
By Jennifer Matthews
The world looks dramatically different than it did just a few weeks ago. On March 17, 2020, Ontario declared a state of emergency, triggering the immediate closure of all University of Toronto buildings. That day, the 475 students living at Trinity were asked to vacate campus by March 21 and continue to complete the remainder of the winter term and final exams online.
While most students were already in the process of moving home, some could not, largely due to cancelled flights or closed borders, says Trinity’s Dean of Students Kristen Moore. For those students, Moore’s team conducted one-on-one interviews to determine how best to meet their needs. They made exceptions for about 80 students to stay in residence; 40 are expected to remain on campus beyond the end of April.
** A TEAM APPROACH **
Accommodating each student’s needs while ensuring safe physical distancing in a communal living environment has been a challenge. It has meant in some cases redistributing students among residence floors to ensure that each has their own dedicated washroom space and scheduled times for bathing and doing laundry. And then there’s the food. The Trinity kitchen continues to provide three meals a day plus snacks—all in takeout containers—for the students (and essential staff) who remain on campus, accommodating specific dietary needs and trying to include treats when possible, Moore says.
Being isolated and away from family and friends during a time of uncertainty can be overwhelming. Moore and her team are doing their best to ensure that each student feels cared for, from phone chats to accessing funds for students who could use a new puzzle or book or hand weights for an in-room workout. And on Easter weekend, each student received a special wellness package, including socks, chocolate, teas, soaps, and other goodies. Ten of Trinity’s 12 Academic Dons also remain on campus and are on call from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. every weekday and during the day on weekends. Along with Cameron McBurney (Assistant Dean of Students, Student Life), they are also connecting with students through creative online channels, including running contests on the Trinity Student Services Instagram feed (@fortrinstudents).
** A NEW NORMAL **
“I’m doing OK,” says second-year student Valeria Khudiakova (Psychology, Class of 2022), who was unable to join her parents abroad and has remained at St. Hilda’s College Residence. “Ramata [Tarawally; Associate Director, Community Wellness] has been so sweet and Meghan Litteljohn [one of Trinity’s Learning Strategists] has been amazing in helping me with strategies and with staying on track with my coursework.”
Khudiakova misses her in-person classes but has filled some of her extra time with Coursera [an online learning platform] courses in social work and the social context of mental health and illness. “I love learning,” she says, adding that she doesn’t mind the quiet that her current living situation provides. And although her plans for attending both McGill and UBC this summer to take courses have been derailed, she has already signed up for replacement courses online through Athabasca University, an online university based in Alberta.
Despite all that learning, Khudiakova dreads boredom (“It causes anxiety for me”). Her antidote? Exercise. “I love walking, so whenever I get cabin fever I take myself out for a walk,” she says. She has committed to visiting every U of T building, even though she won’t be able to go inside.
U of T News: ‘It really is heartening to see’: How U of T is supporting students in residence during the COVID-19 crisis
For Moore (who also lives at St. Hilda’s; she is one of three Deans of Students who live on the U of T campus as part of their role), boredom hasn’t been an issue yet. As co-chair of U of T’s Tri-Campus Residence and Food Services Working Group as part of the COVID-19 Response Team, the past few weeks have been a crash course in learning everything possible about food services and housing, in addition to her ongoing responsibilities in the Trinity Student Services Centre. She and her Trinity colleagues have been working in the integrated, “one-stop” space for less than a year, and she says she misses her daily interactions with her peers and with students. While the staff of the Registrar’s Office have been required to work from home, Moore is rotating on-campus responsibilities with other team members to ensure 24-hour support for students while maintaining the safety of Trinity’s staff.
Moore is quick to add that she’s incredibly proud of the whole Trinity team. “We pulled together so quickly, with incredible leadership from our Provost and our Bursar, and it’s been amazing to see how we can come together virtually. Most important, students are telling us they feel supported and safe.” She credits Trinity’s devoted alumni as part of that team, for helping to make Trinity’s important student wellness services possible, for example.
** ALUMNI SUPPORT CRITICAL **
Amid daily reassessment based on the latest information about COVID-19, Moore is working alongside her colleagues on a range of plans for the months ahead. “We are admitting new students to the College for the fall, and at the same time discussing how to honour our graduating students and their many achievements. It’s been difficult because everyone had to leave campus so suddenly.”
Learn how Trinity alumni are supporting emergency bursary funds through Reunion 2020
For those alumni who have already been asking how they can help, Moore says she is grateful for the support of the alumni community as we navigate what are likely to be stressful weeks ahead.
In the meantime, the Trinity community will continue to come together—physically distanced but no less united—to support one another through the pandemic. Students are accessing wellness supports through online channels, from private counselling sessions to group Zoom chats about stress management and prepping for exams to virtual games just for fun. Stay connected through ConnecTRIN, Trinity’s online community and through our social media channels.
Visit our giving page to support emergency bursaries through the Trinity Fund