Every JMU student got the email. The one in which President John Alger confirmed many people’s worst fears: JMU is going virtual, at least for a four-week period while the school reevaluates its COVID-19 plan and holds out hope that the pandemic will pass before the Oct. 5 deadline.
This isn’t what many students were hoping for, especially not freshmen and transfer students who were becoming acclimated to on-campus life. Now, with most of the university studying and attending classes from their bedrooms at home, campus looks like a ghost town with little to offer in the way of engagement or student involvement.
Although it’s not possible for clubs, sports teams or religious organizations to meet in person like they have in the past, there are still plenty of ways for students, old and new, to connect with the larger JMU community right from the comfort of their homes.
Join a club/organization
For new students looking to get involved, there are plenty of clubs switching to online formats to welcome new members and encourage community building. Organizations like JMU Cru are livestreaming virtual “large group” worship sessions where students can sing, chat and share their faith stories with others, on and off campus.
Meanwhile, clubs like Doghouse Productions, the on-campus student production group, are preparing to switch to online meetings. Doghouse meetings will include student leaders hosting virtual script workshop sessions with Zoom and Google Drive, Netflix parties for classic films and virtual technology tutorials.
No matter what one’s niche or interest may be, there’s a JMU club excited to recruit new members. What new students can do to start building relationships within these clubs and organizations is to follow their social media, get on email lists and participate in virtual events.
Find Dukes in one’s hometown
Although many freshmen have been forced to move back home and are being asked not to stay on campus if they don’t have to, there are no rules about getting together — safely and socially distant of course — with local Dukes and forming new connections. For some, this may mean asking friends or family members connected to the JMU community to point them toward other Dukes living in their area who they could hang out with and get to know.
If students don’t know anyone else in the larger JMU network or didn’t have time to make too many connections on campus, there are plenty of JMU Facebook groups that students can join to find and connect with other Dukes. Groups like JMU Class of 2024 and JMU Nation can be great places to send messages to other Dukes and make connections in one’s area.
Stay connected to one’s residence hall
Hall life is an important part of the freshman experience. It’s where many students find forever friends or significant others that they stay connected to for the rest of their JMU career. Having only gotten to spend a few days on campus, many freshmen and transfers didn’t get the opportunity to find a solid group of friends in their hall or get involved in hall activities.
For those eager to make friends or stay connected to hall life, there’s another option. The JMU Office of Residence Life has asked the Resident Advisors to keep up virtual connections with their halls through one-on-one conversations, hall meetings and facilitating fun group activities.
Although many students may be tempted to ignore their RAs message about a hall meeting or may not find a virtual game night to be the best way to spend their time, these virtual hall activities may be worth checking out. It might not be the ideal arrangement, but these meetings can help keep students connected to their hall and facilitate relationships that can be built upon if classes are able to resume as normal in the spring.
Follow JMU social media accounts
Although liking Instagram photos of Wilson Hall isn’t the same as actually being there, social media can be a way to stay connected to the JMU community. There are dozens of accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit documenting happenings on campus and building virtual JMU communities.
There are plenty of JMU-themed groups on Facebook such as JMU Students Support Black Lives Matter where students can find other like-minded Dukes, share their beliefs and have a positive impact on the school community. There are also some more lighthearted groups, such as JMU Question of the Day, JMaddy is My Meme Daddy and JMU Dog Owners, which have created forums for students to share advice with new Dukes, show off theirmeme game and spam students’ feeds with pictures of theirfurry friends.
There are also several JMU-themed Instagram accounts likeJMU Overheard, Only At JMU and Dear JMU where students can find everything fromCOVID-19 closure memes to serious posts aboutinjustice in the JMU community.
Whatever one’s interests, there’s a fun, informative or revolutionary JMU account for students who want to stay connected to other Dukes and have a free forum to share the things they love or their personal views with other JMU students and alumni.
Watch the Quad Livestream
For those missing people watching and basking in the sun on the Quad, the account @JMUParents has created a way for you to keep joining in the fun straight from home. The JMU Quad Cam gives students, parents and anyone itching to be back on the Quad a 24-hour live feed of what’s happening at the heart of campus.
If one’s homesick for JMU, they can pass their time watching the sunset on Wilson, the failed attempts at a football game outside of Harrison or the furry friends scurrying along the grass. Although it might seem strange or a bit creepy, getting a live glimpse at what’s happening at JMU can be relaxing and help students feel connected with the JMU community.
Despite all the challenges of this new virtual semester, students can still find ways to stay involved and connected to the JMU community. Through digital platforms and social media, it’s possible to stay close to JMU no matter how far away one may be.
Contact Alexandra Dauchess at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram @Breeze_Culture and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.