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Staying Apart, Keeping It TogetherVassar community gathers remotely for socializing, singing—even group workouts!

If there’s a good way to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vassar community has probably found it. Some are meeting on the remote conferencing service Zoom for group workout sessions. Others are celebrating birthdays with virtual “parties” on FaceTime. Lots of students, faculty and alums are using smartphone apps to play word games. Some have even figured out how to sing together in four-part harmony.

Claire Kendrick ’20, an International Studies major from Saxtons River, VT, says she and her friends are using numerous digital platforms to stay connected as they cope with the stress of being apart. “I’ve been in contact with my classmates, housemates, and friends basically nonstop since we’ve all been stuck in our respective homes, thanks to the very fast WiFi in my house and the power of 21st century global connectivity,” said Kendrick, who is back home in the Vermont countryside. “Texting, group chats, Snapchatting, Instagram, Facebook messaging, Facebook groups, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Zoom are all present in various proportions throughout my day.”

Kendrick said she and others in an upper-intermediate Arabic class created a Facebook group called Tagreed’s Children (after their teacher, Tagreed Al-Haddad) and chatted with each other in Arabic. “It’s been very useful not only for discussing the future of our class but also checking in with each other,” she said. The class had been planning to perform the play Aladdin on campus this spring, in Arabic, Kendrick said, but now that the show has been cancelled, one member of the class used Photoshop to put classmates’ faces on a Disney Aladdin poster and sent it to the group.

Professor of Psychological Science Michele Tugade said engaging in these kinds of activities is exactly what we ought to be doing to combat what President Elizabeth Bradley called “nervous boredom” during her recent “Virtual Tea with PB,” a video chat get-together with students. Tugade, whose research focuses on the function of positive emotions in the coping process, said she was glad to hear from many in the Vassar community who are finding ways to connect with others to relieve their stress. “It’s essential to find new ways of connecting,” she said. “These may include tele-coffees, virtual dinners, cooking sessions, happy hours, online group chats, and good, old-fashioned phone calls. Check on your friends and others in your community, and let them know you are thinking of them.”

Emma Tanner ’22 and many of her teammates on the women’s soccer team found a way to connect almost immediately after they reconvened, remotely, for the second half of the spring semester. “The team had its first group call the day before classes resumed,” Tanner said, “and several grads from the team joined as well. It was nice to catch up and see how everyone was doing, especially those who had just traveled home from abroad.”

She added that some members of the team had formed a group to share their at-home workouts. “This has been awesome as we no longer have access to our wonderful Varsity Weight Room,” Tanner said. “We’re also playing iPhone games together, such as Words with Friends and Dice with Buddies. Though this isn’t face-to-face communication, it keeps us thinking of one another throughout our days apart.”

Elianna Scheide ’20, a psychological science major from Los Angeles, said she has been focusing on sharing mealtimes with friends and forming groups to share books, do puzzles, or just take walks together. “I’ve been calling my family, especially my grandmother, to check up on them, and I plan FaceTime and Zoom meetings just to chat,” Scheide said. Her Dungeons and Dragons group has also moved online, and she has joined with others at Vassar to participate in groups such as “Zoom University,” “Zoom University Hillel,” and “Zoom University Hillel (but queer).”

“This has been a time of making meaning, of being mindful, and really embracing technology to help facilitate relationships,” Scheide said. “I’m hoping to send care packages and letters soon, so that I may continue to talk to my friends in new and fun ways.”

Meanwhile, Vassar alums have also been active in finding new ways to connect. The UK Vassar Club has created a WhatsApp group and is checking in regularly with elderly Vassar alums. “They have been sharing ideas, recipes, and news, expressing any concerns they are feeling, and giving each other some much needed humor and distraction with funny memes and video clips,” said Cheryl McKeever, Associate Director of Alumnae/i Engagement in the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development.

Francesca Gutierrez Amann ’91, a former member of the a cappella group Measure 4 Measure, said she and others who sang together at Vassar had reunited, remotely, through an a cappella app that enabled them to perform together. “It’s been so powerful to sing our old songs and also interesting to sing with people I’ve never met before, but who are M4M alums and therefore know the parts,” Amann said. “This warms my heart.”

Tugade said she hoped members of the Vassar community everywhere, and others around the world, would continue to find ways to cope with their own stress by staying connected with others. “One final suggestion: Find moments of levity,” she said. “Laughter and joy can be among our most valuable tools for building resilience. Without discounting the severity of the pandemic, we all need moments of uplift in challenging times. As we forge ahead, this can be an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, and learn new ways of being resilient together.”