COVID, Features
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COVID Challenges Pitt’s Sense of Community

The quarantine life changed Pitt’s sense of community, but with a little help, you can still feel your Panther Pride. 

January 2020: spring semester begins at Pitt. First-year students are settling into campus life. They are getting a feel for Oakland and what it has to offer, finding clubs and organizations that are a good fit and generally finding their place in the Pitt community. Returning students are back in their comfort zone. They are starting clubs and running organizations and setting the tone for the Pitt community overall.  

Then the pandemic. Everything changes and the community shuts down.  

While Pitt was quick to address immediate concerns like public health and safety and ensuring the quality of education, they seemed to neglect Pitt’s sense of community. Has it been lost in the aftermath of the coronavirus or can it still be found among the Zoom calls and Panopto lectures? 

I joined Pitt, back in March, as a transfer student just before the pandemic struck. I spent about eight weeks on campus before we were all quarantined, and I have still not been back to Oakland since. Eight weeks is not very much time to get a feel for what the Pitt community has to offer, but there are things that I miss. 

My wife works for the medical school and I miss riding the bus with her in the morning. I miss working out at the “Pete” (Peterson Events Center) and I miss learning in a classroom with other students. But, most of all, I miss Oakland. It is a vibrant and interesting place full of charming characters and novel experiences. I will graduate in December 2021 and I may never set foot on campus again.  

I feel disconnected from Pitt during these unusual times, and I am not alone. One student I asked about this sense of separation said, “It’s difficult to feel like you’re part of a community when you’re so far away; I chose Pitt because I love the campus and the atmosphere, and I’m missing all of that, which makes me feel as though I’m missing out on the parts of Pitt that I love the most.” Another added, “Overall the pandemic has brought this sense of detachment, and although I don’t mind being left alone, I feel for those who are used to a bustling environment and are able to make friends by meeting in person.” In total, 60 percent of the students I surveyed reported feeling like they were not a part of the Pitt community.  

I will graduate in December 2021 and I may never set foot on campus again.

Aaron Horsting

So, what steps can we take to stay connected and what options do Pitt and its student organizations offer to get that social fix that helps us all feel a part of something greater? 

On July 29, 2020, Dean Kenyon Bonner announced that a group of student leaders had drafted the Pitt Community Compact, a list of guidelines meant to ensure health, safety and accountability for everyone in the Pitt community. These guidelines guaranteed that masks and social distancing would be the norm for the foreseeable future. They also provide the framework within which clubs and organizations must operate going forward. 

The Pitt Community Compact is part of a hub (coronavirus.pitt.edu) that Pitt has created as an easy reference for all things coronavirus at Pitt. This includes a Socially Engaged, Physically Distant page. There you will find a solid list featuring a variety of activities that are socially responsible, and quarantine approved. While they may not be the typical activities that college students are used to, there are more than a few ways to spend some time with a group of friends on their page. 

Check out the Student Organization Resource Center for even more activities. The SORC keeps up a database of all 677 student organizations on campus with easy category searches to help you find the right group for you as well as posting activities that are open to all students. 

The PittServe hub and its activities calendar is a great way to get involved in the greater Pittsburgh community as part of Pitt’s service outreach. Their commitment shows that you can still have a social conscience while being social distant. PittServe recommends that students who still want to give back should do so in the safest way possible. They ask that you do not host or attend events if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or if you are uncomfortable attending an in-person event. 

This March, the Pitt Program Council hosted a virtual Q&A with actor and screenwriter Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek” and “Happiest Season” fame and a virtual concert and Q&A with Grammy-nominated recording artist Noah Cyrus. The PPC website also has an events calendar with links to activities like axe throwing, group bike rides, macramé classes and self-care tutorials. All events are either virtual, socially distanced or in small groups to keep everyone safe. Of all of the resources available, this seems to offer something for most everyone. 

That said, much the same as before the pandemic, the Pitt community continues to engage in a great variety of programs and organizations. They are finding new and creative ways to engage with community members.  

At the beginning of this article, I posed the question: can there still be a vibrant and active university community when we are all living the quarantined lifestyle? It looks like there can be, you just need to know where to look. 

For more information on any of the groups listed here check out the links below: 

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