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Campus & Community

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Welcome

Pandemic Reshapes Move-in Weekend, With Students Masked, on Zoom and Outdoors

By Lauren Brown

Lawn sign that reads, "Welcome Terps! We're happy you are here!" with a Testudo illustration

Photos by Stephanie S. Cordle

Terps head toward Ellicott Hall on Friday after moving into their single rooms. Fall Welcome was full of additional unique elements, whether virtual events organized by university officials to celebrate their arrival, or lots of informal outdoor gatherings. Below, Maya Pulliam, far left, Fiona Zabel, top left and Kiefer Cure, far right, all friends from Baltimore, eat their to-go lunches from The Diner and get to know fellow freshman Nadia Arango from Atlanta.

It was a move-in like no other at the University of Maryland, when parking spaces near residence halls and yellow moving carts were plentiful, but neighbors on your floor were not. 

Fall Welcome in 2020, held during a stubbornly persistent pandemic, eschewed traditional in-person gatherings such as “Welcome to the B1G Show” in Maryland Stadium, with its cheers and class photo on Capital One Field, along with the barbecue and in-person address from the president. 

Instead, the Department of Resident Life got creative, offering a menu of virtual activities from Wednesday through Sunday night that kept the original goals of enthusiastically welcoming students, connecting them to each other and acquainting them with resources on campus to help them succeed. 

The Class of 2024 deserved a special experience, said Dan Hairfield, coordinator for recruitment and outreach programs in Resident Life.

Students sit and eat on stairs outside“Our incoming students felt like they lost so much with the end of their senior year, a summer of feeling disconnected from their friends and not being able to come to Orientation,” he said. 

Thus motivated, event organizers, including representatives of the Honors College, College Park Scholars, the Alumni Association, the Stamp Student Union, the Office of Student Orientation and Transition, and the Office of Parent and Family Affairs, hosted online versions of trivia night, yoga, craft-making, meet and greets, and “find your way” tours. 

“All along, we’ve been committed to the safety and health of our students, our student employees, our colleagues in Resident Life and across the campus,” said Damien Franze, manager of student and community development programs. “We are incredibly proud of our program, but we wondered, would it actually work? Would they join in”?

He got his answer when game night on Wednesday drew 200 students and showed no sign of slowing down at the scheduled 11 p.m. end. Franze handed over Zoom hosting duties to the student attendees and went to bed. “They were having a blast,” he said. 

Also through Zoom, students heard greetings Sunday evening from new President Darryll J. Pines, Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo, Student Government Association President Dan Alpert and Vice President Nabila Prasetiawan, who all encouraged students to get involved, fight systemic racism on campus and beyond, and put safety first. 

Conscious of the health threat, students craving face-to-face interactions over the weekend met outside, faces covered and physically distanced. They formed circles outside the Diner, gathered in small groups under shady trees and chatted in pairs on McKeldin Mall. 

Masked and physically distanced from each other, juniors Emily Zhou and Isabella Benning met at ODK Fountain on Friday to enjoy a steamy summer day and try to feel like things are getting back to normal. But they aren’t, they admitted.

“I don’t really like being outside,” Zhou, a theatre major living at South Campus Commons, deadpanned as she waded in the fountain. “It’s hard to figure out how to hang out now.”

Benning, double-majoring in theatre and criminology and criminal justice living off campus, said keeping a more than arm’s-length distance from her friend is worth it if it allows campus life to resume.

“We’re lucky we’re able to see what’s happened at some other colleges, where they’ve already had problems,” she said. “I hope people realize that could be us if we don’t do the right thing.”

Michael Schwartz of North Potomac, Md., said he was glad to see everything—and everyone— spaced apart. He had participated in Resident Life’s “set up and go” program, dropping off his things two weeks earlier in his single room—once unusual yet common this fall—then returning to move in. He said the process was smooth and “very spread out.” 

“I hope everyone is smart and stays safe throughout the semester so we can stay,” he said.

Chris Carroll and Aadit Tambe M. Jour ’21 contributed to this story.

Schools & Departments:

Department of Resident Life

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