On the ‘Wright’ track back – showing resolve during COVID-19

15 June 2020

Peer support groups, a radio station called Buzz FM and online activities via zoom - the students at Wright Hall have done their best to keep connected as the COVID-19 pandemic alters the way they, and the ANU community, interact with each other.

President of the Wright Hall Association of Members, Lachlan Ballard, says there's no doubt that the semester has been a particularly difficult one for the entire residential community.

"As a new Hall that is still establishing its identity, I'd say Wright will experience a greater hit to its culture than the older residential communities," he says.

"Affirming a culture within a residential community takes time and consistency, and the leadership team that I've been a part of over the past two years has worked incredibly hard to keep the momentum going in terms of establishing and building upon Wright's tradition."

Lachie says there will be a lot that needs to be done to get the positive and uplifting culture back that the students had worked so hard to achieve before the pandemic.

"Despite the circumstances, many residents have remained eager to contribute remotely and it is a credit to Sammie and the leadership team for continuing to facilitate those opportunities for involvement."

Some of those opportunities for involvement have included the creation of peer support groups of 3 to 4 people - a mixture of first year and 'older' students so they can gain guidance and support.

Head of Residence Samitha (Sammie) Ramanayake says there were lots of benefits to come out of these peer support groups.

"Second and third years get the opportunity to be more motivated by giving a first year a level of confidence. So it worked both ways," Sammie says.

"For the first years it was about that formal guidance and support but for the later years it was about motivation which was a huge factor for them moving to remote study."

For those who have not experienced the university life, moving from high school is ordinarily a big leap because of its relatively unstructured nature, he says.

"So it had a mutual benefit for both sides, so that is why we went with the peer study group rather than a buddy system or a one-on-one mentoring relationship."

During the period of isolation, Wright Hall has also kept its residents connected through its own internal radio station called Buzz FM, and a community newsletter called 'onesixthree'. The Hall also launched its own Zoom speaker series, where the new Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student and University Experience), Professor Ian Anderson, was the inaugural speaker.

"I'd say we're getting quite positive indications from the measure of resident engagement in our activities," Lachie says.

"While engagement is not at the level it would normally be at when we are on campus, a number of students have still made some great contributions to the community through their participation in our activities."

For Lachie personally, a highlight of his has been hosting Wright Hall's own 'Zoom Zumba' every week - something the self-confessed Zumba fanatic says is his most loved self-care activity.

"I was very disappointed when my dance studio had to temporarily close down. Nonetheless, this presented an excellent opportunity to share my love of Zumba with the community and facilitate an online activity that has kept people active and social. It was great just seeing people's faces every week, and briefly catching up in between dances."

Zumba aside, Wright Hall has also remained top of the leader board in the Interhall Arts Committee shield due to the community's success in the poetry slam and creative writing competition.

"The launch of our radio station showcased many creative and fun show ideas by residents to keep the community entertained remotely, including cooking shows, current affairs, interviews with other ressies and so on," Lachie says.

"I think it would be unrealistic to not expect a dip in student morale as a result of the very difficult circumstances we've been through this Semester. That being said, I think the optimism of being able to return in Semester 2 has sparked a bit of hope and excitement in the community."