As universities continue to adjust to circumstances around the coronavirus pandemic, University of Houston-Victoria Student Affairs staff members have created ways to help keep students entertained and mentally healthy during stay-at-home orders.
“It is important that we let the UHV community know we are all going through this together,” said Michael Wilkinson, senior director of UHV Student Services & Judicial Affairs. “Even though most of our students are at home, we want to make sure they have a healthy well-being during this time.”
For several weeks, UHV Student Life staff members have put their efforts into connecting with students virtually through social media. After all on-campus events were canceled or postponed for the spring semester, the Jaguar Activities Board, which hosts events for students, was at a standstill.
“The main goal for JAB is to have at least one event a week, but when COVID-19 started, it changed everything for us,” said Freddie Cantu, Student Life coordinator. “We all went back and discussed what still could be done to help our students have some stress relief while they are at home.”
Instead of weekly events, JAB has created daily social media events or challenges posted on the UHV Student Life Facebook page to help keep students engaged. Each week kicks off with a Motivation Monday inspirational post and a schedule for the week.
There’s TikTok Tuesday, where students can head over to the video-sharing social network and compete with jaguar mascot jaX on dance challenges; Weekly Challenge Wednesday, which has included a March Madness-style competition of Disney films and a pet show; Trivia Thursday; and Fitness Friday with tips about how to exercise at home.
Cesar Gonzalez, a student coordinator with Student Life and a UHV senior majoring in business management and business marketing, has helped create social media challenges and events for the past few weeks. Gonzalez is a Cypress native but is also a resident assistant at Jaguar Hall and stayed in Victoria for the stay-at-home orders. He meets with jaX every week to help with TikTok dance challenges and to make fun videos of jaX for Fridays.
Jay Lambert, UHV vice president for student affairs, said social media has become crucial during a time when social distancing is the best prevention of COVID-19.
“There are some students who miss having a community and need to have that sense of connection,” Lambert said. “Social media is where our students are, and we will be right there with them.”
In addition to fun challenges, university counseling and mental health services also have transitioned online. Counselor education professors in the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development recently hosted a free and public livestream session on Facebook about strategies to cope with anxiety and stress.
Abran Rodriguez, a UHV assistant counselor education professor, said they decided to host a session after UHV faculty members reached out saying they had sensed anxiety in students. The virtual session was provided to the community through Facebook Live and Zoom. Counseling professors Katherine Bacon, Sneha Nayar and Rodriguez hosted the event so that students, as well as faculty, staff and the public, could watch and ask questions.
Social media livestreams and telehealth services have become vital for the UHV community during the pandemic, Rodriguez said, and the counseling faculty members might host more livestream sessions in the future.
In addition to virtual services, UHV offers students access to JP’s Market, the free student pantry, three times a week as well as applications to apply for emergency funding. UHV Student Affairs also started a calling campaign to call and check on the well-being of each UHV student and offer assistance. The UHV Counseling Center is conducting daily therapy sessions remotely for students. The center also offers students access to a self-help tool called Therapy Assistance Online. Additionally, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TAO has made one of its many tools, the Mindfulness Library, free for everyone at www.taoconnect.org/mindfulness-exercise/.
“We are here for our students, and we care about them,” Wilkinson said. “We are all in this together, and there is no better way to get through this situation than united as a UHV community.”