By Bruce Gentry
During March, we started mirroring our approach to the virus to what the university was doing.
The Baptist Student Center (BSC) had several apartments which were at full capacity. We felt like we had a primary responsibility to our residents because our facility also serves as a kind of community center for the university. I remember heading out of the building one Friday early in the semester, thinking no one was around, only to discover a challenging game of Mahjong going on among our visiting Chinese scholars. You just never know who is hanging out at the BSC!
The Center normally hosts two meals a week and numerous small groups. It grieved us a bit to come to the decision to shut down all social events. The Chinese students and faculty affirmed our decision because their friends and family had already been living with the consequences of the virus; our Chinese friends understood more than anyone. My associate, Nathan, and I began working remotely from home as I attempted to keep scheduled activities as close to normal as possible.
I am also a part-time professor and converted my face-to-face class to an online class, keeping the class live on Zoom.
I scheduled Zoom times for most of our Center events, like our Sunday night family meal and the afternoon tea-time I share with students. These events were never attended in great numbers, but I found that the students who shared Zoom time with me did so because it helped them feel connected.
Some students had shifted their time to studying at home; connecting with BSC friends helped break the monotony a bit and made them feel more connected to our community. On one occasion, I got the impression that one of my students was running out of food, so I offered to send her some groceries. I logged into the grocery shopping app, found the nearest grocery store to her home, and had food shipped to her door.
These small groups kept meeting until the end of the semester, just before finals, which is normally what we do in a regular semester. Whether during an average semester or during a quarantined one, students need the extra time to focus on the end of their classes, which always seems to come crashing in on us all. On our last Sunday night after finals, I hosted a Zoom party, complete with a disco ball in my dark room with some music playing in the background. We also played Pictionary. The recent Zoom upgrade that had added a white board came at a handy time. My students were even polite in not making fun of my drawings.
During this past year, I have come to know one of our Chinese scholars named Lenf Li. We share a love for basketball and often play with a group that meets regularly on campus. After Kobe Bryant’s death, Lenf showed me all the tributes from his friends in China, reminding me at how incredibly popular basketball is in China.
Early in this spring semester, the BSC had ordered a couple of sets of the ancient Asian game of “Go.” After the quarantine started, I took one to his house so that Lenf could teach his son how to play. A couple of weeks later, they gave me a live Zoom lesson on playing the game “Go.” Even during quarantines, we can learn something new, even if it is an ancient game. I have stopped by Lenf’s house on occasion, dropped off some tea for his family and, at other times, taking a “physically distant” selfie in front of his house.
Dr. Bruce Gentry serves as director of the Baptist Student Center at Southeast Missouri State University.