Welcome Weeks traditions live on in COVID-19 pandemic

Maria Staggenborg, Contributing Writer

Every year, Mercyhurst welcomes new Lakers with New Student Welcome. This year was a little different to past Welcome Weeks, as students came back to a campus with social distancing and sometimes confusing directional arrows on the floors of academic buildings.

The Student Welcome was no exception to the new COVID procedures. In fact, some “don’t refer to this year’s Welcome as a Welcome Week due to the condensed time frame of three days” said executive director of Campus Involvement Sarah Allen.

One problem the planning committee had was finding a place for the incoming students. Allen said they were able to work around this by using the school’s stadiums and sports fields. “This allowed us to spray paint six foot squares to ensure social distancing,” said Allen.

Luckily, there were not many events that had to be cut from the program, though they all saw changes to ensure social distancing.

“[We] did lose some of the presentations from officers and departments, but the primary focus remained, including messages from Curtis Zimmerman, David Coleman, Julia & Monti: Diversity University and No Zebras, No Excuses,” said Allen.

One popular tradition, Hypnotic Intoxication, was turned into a two-session program. “The first session, which was held during New Student Welcome, was held virtually and the second session will be held at a time when Mercyhurst resumes live events on campus,” said Allen.

At this second session, hypnotist Keith Karkut will invite people on stage to participate in his live hypnosis show.

Students watched the virtual events in their pods in classrooms throughout campus instead of packed into the PAC with their entire incoming class, as was done in years past.

These pods were “designed to minimize social interaction within the first week,” said assistant director of Community Engagement Bethany Woods.

The pods were based on residential floor rather than iMU section.

“[The pods were] roughly 10-15 students, though some pods were as small as five,” said Woods. “It all depends on how many people were on the floor.”

Each pod was paired with a Laker Leader, RA, or volunteer staff member who helped facilitate events and answer any questions that new students may have.

One of the staples of Welcome Week is the Freshman Day of Service. In the past, this meant students volunteered at local schools and nursing homes or did beach clean-ups.

This year, the Office of Community Engagement had to think outside of the box and come up with virtual volunteer opportunities that were flexible, could be done on campus and still imparted that first lesson in Mercyhurst’s core values.

According to Woods, this meant the students would create videos for public outreach.

Some of the videos were based around the 2020 census, in hopes that they would motivate more people to register.

Without an accurate population count, Erie could lose funding for schools and roads. Other videos were sent to Diehl Elementary, a local school.

In the past, Mercyhurst students would visit this school for the students first week of class to cheer them on as they came back to school in the fall. This year, they sent videos which will be shown to students on their first day of class.

These videos may have varied in content, but one thing that rang true across the board is the effort and creativity this year’s Freshmen poured into their videos. “They did a really good job,” said Woods. “They were all really creative.”

Another Mercyhurst tradition that was reimagined was the New Student Convocation. At this event new students get to learn about the mission and history of Mercyhurst from President Michael T. Victor and Provost Leanne Roberts.

Watching virtually from their classroom pods, new students were formally admitted as a member of the Mercyhurst University class by taking the Pledge of Academic Fellowship.

Welcome Week may have changed this year, but Lakers’ willingness to give back and create a positive campus community remains as steadfast as ever.