As campus adapts, sense of community will remain

Outdoor seating areas such as the one in front of the GCBC at Roadrunner Apartments will be covered in shade to make them even more inviting to students.

Editor’s note: Reprinted from the August 2020 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here.

By Mike Kilen
GCU Magazine

It was clear to student leaders when they returned to campus in July. They had to set an example to not only endure in a new era of limiting a virus spread but also thrive in a campus environment known for high energy and unity.

ASGCU President Dylan Mahoney and his executive team spent the summer scenario planning, with the goal of preserving GCU's togetherness and campus energy.

“We are Lopes,” said Dylan Mahoney, President of the Associated Students of Grand Canyon University (ASGCU). “We’re still going to have the same spirit.”

Student Affairs teams spent the summer on scenario planning as the COVID-19 pandemic evolved. The goal was to save that togetherness and campus energy so vital to the GCU experience, even if it took modifications.

Over the summer, Mahoney and his executive team produced videos and social media campaigns to roll out to students. The messages were of hope, wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart.

"It doesn’t matter if events aren’t going to be the same. What matters is we are together,” said Noah Logan, ASGCU Vice President. “It’s not hard to wear a mask. If student leaders can’t follow the guidelines, how can we expect anyone else to? It’s comparatively little to ask to keep the campus strong and open.”

Never has the student leadership had such an important task, and Dr. Tim Griffin said he looked to rally the troops

In numerous Zoom meetings every day through the summer, the Pastor and Dean of Students said a plan emerged to maintain a vibrant but safe campus life. They were principally guided, he said, by safety standards of keeping physical distance and avoiding large gatherings to help stop any potential virus spread.

“It is going to be a real opportunity for us as a university to value small groups. We’ve really been a big event kind of place, but not everybody connects to others at big events,” he said. “Sometimes smaller is a more comfortable opportunity to share and talk and laugh and experience in that kind of setting. I’m hoping this new student body will embrace that."

Jesus had 12 followers but spent most of his time with three, Griffin said, and often went away to the mountains to rest.

“So Jesus valued small group interaction. And he changed community life. He literally changed the world, and it was built on small group dynamics.”

Campus events will be altered by using multiple venues or technology. For example, the club fair that begins each school year is packed with students, shoulder to shoulder, visiting tables set up in GCU Arena by dozens of clubs that students can join in the coming year. This year, they will use the GCU Engage app to allow students to virtually explore the many clubs and make contacts.

“It might improve it, actually. Students can go in and visit more than 20 clubs, and before they might be able to talk to 10 at the fair,” said Jeremy Mack, Director of Student Engagement.

GCU can call on its prior experience combining in-person events with a virtual component, as it did with its largest events, the Mr. GCU and Lip Sync contests, which used an app to engage with students. Also, a virtual version of the popular Canyon Night Show was introduced last year.

It’s going to be a cultural shift, said Mack, who in normal times finds students gathered on couches in his offices.

Some intramural sports will still be held, such as sand volleyball.

“We do have a tight community that loves each other and wants to hang out together. Our students get energy from it,” he said, adding that they’re also known for their unified purpose. “It’s the heart of GCU. Let’s take the bad stuff and make it amazing.”

Other ideas emerged through the summer brainstorming among the staff of 150 in Student Affairs: Chapel will be in multiple venues or even outdoors; intramural sports shifted away from contact sports to ones in which participants can maintain physical distance; gyms will require an advance signup; and outdoor recreation will shift from outings to skills classes.

If any area required innovation on the fly it was Welcome Week, a series of events and
student move-ins that are known for large, exuberant crowds.

The Welcome Programs staff worked through four scenarios over the summer, and a hybrid fifth plan was hatched after GCU announced in July that students would not return until late September.

The key to helping students make connections is getting them involved before they come to campus, said Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs.

The key is getting students involved before they even get to campus, said Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs.

Orientation will be done online, and Welcome Week events will shift to the weekend of arrival, move outdoors, be limited to one hour and require advance signup.

The staff is determined to make students feel welcome, even at a distance.

“This year is more important than any year because it will be their first opportunity to engage with a new community. When they go through this orientation, they will be told the different opportunities to get involved even though they are not on campus yet,” she said.

Student leaders say it’s not going to be easy, but the adaptations may lead to innovations that engage students in campus life even more.

“GCU has always been at the forefront in campus concepts, so I think a lot of cool things will come out of it,” ASGCU’s Mahoney said. “Our school year might look a bit different in the first semester, but we are still going to be the same spirited school we have always been. If we band together, we can get through this together.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

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