Grebelites continue in community amid COVID-19 separation

April 8, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 8
Elizabeth Robertson | Conrad Grebel University College
At Grebel, students are craving community connection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured, apartment dwellers visit with Grebel’s director of operations, Paul Penner, outside their window, and with the director of student services, Mary Brubaker-Zehr, via video chat. (Photo by Anna Kuepfer)

Most people’s lives have shifted dramatically in the past few weeks, as they grapple with social isolation, educational upheaval, job changes, pandemic preparations and health-care emergencies surrounding COVID-19. Conrad Grebel University College is no different.

At this point, Grebel’s residence dorm is empty while 16 students remain living in the Grebel apartments. Some residents, who could not return home immediately, moved from the dorms to the self-sufficient apartments, making meals in their kitchen and staying physically distant from others.

Second-year engineering student Max Chute was unable to return home to Vietnam due to complications surrounding international travel, so he made the decision to move into a Grebel apartment with a few close friends. He also shared his experience as a residence don during the busy move-out time.

“Between the five dons, we checked 120 students out of the residence in five days,” he says. “Normally this process takes three weeks.”

Chute found that there was a general feeling among the residents of lacking closure to the year’s residence experience.  

While most students have dispersed to their respective homes, they continue to engage in the community of support they have built up over the past year. Many student committees and leadership teams continue to meet virtually to plan activities for the Grebel community.

Nathaniel Kim, a third-year biochemistry student, says that the disruption to regular routine “hasn’t stopped the chapel committee from meeting online to plan our most geographically ambitious service yet!” He says that after an imperfect, yet powerful, rendition of “Amazing Grace” that was sung when the committee first met digitally, they knew they needed to expand this feeling of unity towards the rest of the dispersed Grebelites.

“Adapting chapel to an online medium gives us the thrill of a new challenge, but, more importantly, I think it’s a shining example of how Grebel’s community always pulls through together,” he says.

The abrupt transition off-campus is especially difficult for the fourth-year cohort that had been looking forward to enjoying the last days of their Grebel experience together.

Charlotte Baker, a Grebel associate in her last term of university, found the sudden end to her Grebel experience to be a difficult adjustment. The desire to continue in community led her to create “The Great Grebel Challenge” Instagram page so residents and associates can still have fun together while being physically separated. She posts a new challenge every few days, such as trying out a new recipe, and then shares videos and pictures of fellow Grebelites completing the task.

“As soon as I post a challenge, I immediately start getting submissions,” she says. “I think that really shows people’s excitement to stay connected and their dedication to the Grebel community.” 

The orientation committee is continuing to connect online to ensure the coming generation of Grebelites is welcomed accordingly.

Leah Schilstra, a member of the committee responsible for organizing this fall’s Orientation Week events, says, “We are still planning all the same fun events, snacks and skits that you see every year,” adding, “The willingness and intentionality I have seen through online meetings reveals the commitment people have to seeing the Grebel community thrive and succeed, as well as the commitment the Grebel community has to one another.”

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At Grebel, students are craving community connection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured, apartment dwellers visit with Grebel’s director of operations, Paul Penner, outside their window, and with the director of student services, Mary Brubaker-Zehr, via video chat. (Photo by Anna Kuepfer)

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