Virtual sticky notes and crafts bring residential college community together

As COVID-19 protocols have caused many events within the residential colleges to shift online, the need to adapt also is helping students and faculty heads of house find creative ways to build community.

This year, students in E. Bronson Ingram College start off their weekly “Bronson Breaks,” a time for residents to have some fun with the faculty head of house and her family, by peeling off a virtual sticky note from an online collaboration tool. There, they get the chance to share thoughts or give advice on topics ranging from dealing with exam stress and swapping information about COVID-safe study spots on campus, to recommending the best shows to binge-watch.

“We’re always brainstorming ways to cultivate an atmosphere where community can thrive, and this year we’ve had to be more creative than ever,” said Sarah Igo, faculty head of Bronson. “The virtual bulletin board questions are proving to be great conversation starters to help students connect.”

Igo, the Andrew Jackson Professor of History and director of the American Studies program, laughed when she admitted that a question about best and worst Halloween candies elicited the most passionate discussion of any of the other topics so far this semester. But she said a balance of deep feelings and laid-back fun is exactly what she has tried to cultivate during these get-togethers.

Hands-on fun

Faculty head of house Sarah Igo and students from E. Bronson Ingram College play Boggle during a Bronson Break.

Igo and her family have always loved playing games like Boggle with students during Bronson Breaks, and they’ve continued that with the help of a strategically positioned camera over the Boggle board. But one of the most successful activities has been the addition of weekly crafts, often led by fellow students.

Staff members pull together all of the supplies needed to complete the activity for students to pick up earlier in the day, then everyone crafts over Zoom.

Sophomore Suong Tran, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently led a session where she shared a craft she taught this past summer as a science camp counselor.

“This year I just really wanted to push myself to be involved with certain things, and I had a paracord bracelet-making skill in my back pocket so I thought it would be fun,” she said.

Tran said she volunteered after one of the sticky note sessions asked students about a skill they’d be willing to share.

“The questions are always great conversation starters and opportunities to talk to people that you haven’t really talked to before, even though you’re in the Zoom room together,” she said. “And I was surprised how much I’ve been able to get to know Dr. Igo during games and crafts, which has been great.”

Residential colleges philosophy

E. Bronson Ingram College Faculty Head of House Sarah Igo with her family.

Igo said these get-togethers and other events within the colleges and houses reinforce the importance of personal connection, community, intellectual development, self-discovery and cultural awareness that are the lifeblood of Vanderbilt’s residential colleges philosophy.

“I think this unique time has reaffirmed how precious and essential community is, whether we’re in person or online,” she said. “I’m definitely becoming more open to technology as a great way of connecting.”