Despite changes to the Vanderbilt experience this year made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic, one part of college life remains the same for first-year students: Everyone is new and looking to make friends. Faculty heads of house on The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons are finding creative ways to bring students together safely.
“I would say one of the things that’s turning out great this year is establishing relationships and helping students build some sense of community with each other. Those things feel strikingly normal, and students seem to be appreciating the connection even more,” said Rosevelt Noble, faculty head of Stambaugh House.
Stambaugh residents are getting to know each other through activities such as “Speed Friending” and “LinkedIn on the Lawn.” In Speed Friending, students go through a list of questions, covering as many as possible with their partner in one minute.
“There’s a lot of fast talking, so you don’t have a whole lot of time to second guess yourself. And sometimes all it takes is one question to find something in common,” said Noble, a senior lecturer in sociology and director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center.
“I came to Speed Friending just to meet some people on other floors and step out of my comfort zone, and it was fun,” said mechanical engineering student Molly Birdsall of Brookfield, Connecticut. “I also got to talk with first-years who are living in Towers this semester.”
In addition to participating in Speed Friending events with fellow first-year students, participants have also done so with Stambaugh alumni.
“It was great talking with upperclassmen, because I haven’t met many yet, and they can be great resources for the future,” said computer engineering student Jenny Mazzola of Canton, Massachusetts.
Students had more time to talk during “LinkedIn on the Lawn,” in which they asked questions to get to know one another during their first week on campus and discover how their interests “linked.”
Quality over quantity
Noble said he’s trying to encourage “quality over quantity” for students this year.
“This is a good semester to develop some deeper, more quality friendships, as opposed to thinking that they’ve got to get in front of as many different people or be in as many activities as possible,” he said.
With the protocols that have been implemented as a result of COVID-19, Noble said students are putting a higher value on face-to-face interactions that can be done safely.
“They’ve learned to appreciate those opportunities for connections and community, and they’re bringing their own special uniqueness in those dynamics,” he said. “That’s what makes Vanderbilt students so great.”