Strengthening Community During COVID-19

Many will agree that this pandemic has taught us how much we value human connections, especially during a time where everyone is asked to distance themselves socially.  

In September, students who lived in Witte or Sellery residence halls, as well as some students involved in sororities and fraternities, were told to quarantine to help stop the spread of COVID19.  This necessary decision was made to keep students healthy physically, but the Dean of Students Office partnered with University Health Services/Mental Health Services, Office of Undergraduate Advising, and Residence Life to launch a universitywide effort to support the students’ mental and emotional well-being. 

Operation Connection through Quarantine launched with a goal of contacting 2,300 students while they were in quarantine. Volunteer faculty and staff were gathered by wordofmouth across campus from various schools, colleges, and departments. 

“Staff were self-selected and provided a list of resources, along with the Dean of Students Office staff assisting the callers with their questions,” said Assistant Dean of Students Kathy Kruse. 

Katy McCleary, associate director, Global Engagement Office, in the School of Education, was one of the hundreds of people who volunteered to call students. McCleary, jumped at the opportunity to help students during their time of need. 

“I think at UW-Madison, the ways in which different units have responded to rally to support students is something that’s amazing to see, said McCleary. I realized how important it is for students to know there are others out there supporting them. 

Overall, students were very receptive of the calls they received. Many of them were grateful for the resources, but also to know that they had people they did not even know in their corner supporting them.  

Haley Arrington, a sophomore in Delta Gamma, was in isolation at Zoe Bayliss. With a simple call from Kruse, she felt supported and reassured 

We thought it was cool for the school to reach out to us. We were obviously getting a lot of calls from our families and friends, but to make that connection with [Kruse] was really nice,” said Arrington 

The calls not only gave students a human connection to someone who could listen to their needs and offer resources for support, but it also connected them to the university. This is the type of reassurance John Zumbrunnen, vice provost for teaching and learning, was happy to provide, especially during a time when so many things in life are changing for students. 

“I’m not teaching this fall, and I’m accustomed to being with students every semester, so I miss that,” he said. With students in quarantine for a week, it was important that these students know people are thinking about them and we want to provide what support we can.” 

The support provided was not limited to the resources they have as students. 

Yes, making these calls were important to support them as students, but also just to support them as people. Students who feel a connection to the University perform better in the classroom as well, said Zumbrunnen.  

The success of Operation Connection through Quarantine has led to an extension of the volunteer effort to call and check in on students going into isolation or quarantine housing on campus. Phase two now includes student advisors from nine different departments who have been reaching out to students in isolation or quarantine as reported through UHS to assist with any academic concerns they may have.  

The way people from so many different departments at the University have come together to support students during this time truly embodies the resilience instilled in Badgers. People can contact the Dean of Students Office if they are interested in supporting this effort.