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University News

Distance Can’t Keep Them Apart

Students find ways to connect online to socialize, stay fit and maintain a sense of ‘campus life’

Posted in: Homepage News, University

Student Connections collage on laptop

How do college students connect when they must be physically distant? Turns out, when they tune in, Zoom in and plug in, there’s actually quite a lot.

With stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Montclair State students are getting creative and staying connected by posting on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and other popular social media sites.

The screen time is helping them get a sense of normalcy back. “We live in a time where we can do things like this. We can do video calls, we can game together, we can FaceTime together,” said Kaya Maciak, a sophomore Communication and Media Arts major.

Kaya Maciak
Kaya Maciak, a sophomore Communication and Media Arts major, signs off from “The Morning Buzz.”

The Voice of Montclair State

Ending a recent broadcast of the “Morning Buzz the Quarantined Edition” with an online dance party, Maciak added a plug for 90.3 WMSC-FM, “We can collaborate on the radio!”

The station is just one of the campus organizations that have found ways to stay connected. With Montclair State students completing the end of this academic year with online classes, many are trying to stay as active as possible with their college clubs, sports and friends.

“I think you can have a true college experience from your own house,” said Casey Coleman ’14, coordinator of student activities for the Center for Student Involvement. “It’s about adjusting, adapting and finding your way” – even if that means broadcasting the news from your bedroom.

WMSC-FM stays on the air via Zoom. “The beauty of this new innovative way of doing radio is that we can also take the video live to our YouTube page and Facebook,” said General Manager Anabella Poland, the station’s faculty adviser. Weekend shows broadcast over Instagram Live and Twitch.

The Montclair News Lab is also broadcasting from homes, its first remote episode  examining how the global pandemic “is affecting our lives, and the lives of those around us.” This included an interview with a student recovering from COVID-19 and how newly employed graduates have seen their jobs upended by the crisis.

Taylor Risley, a junior majoring in Television and Digital Media, provided a day-in-the-life of what it’s like to be one of the few students still living on campus. Risley works as a resident assistant in Machuga Heights, where some of the 450 students who remain on campus are living. In her piece for the Montclair News Lab, Risley says she spends most of her time in her dorm room, Zooming in for classes, playing virtual Jeopardy and perfecting her TikTok dance moves.

For students missing the rituals of the spring semester, and especially the seniors disappointed by the postponement of Commencement and the cancellation of special events, putting their energy and creativity into the videos has lessened the sting.

Senior dance majors raised the video barre, recording a virtual “last” performance of their spring showcase, Martha Graham’s “Ritual to the Sun” from Acts of Light. The dancers move across their lawns or kitchens, wherever they could find the space, performing the choreography they have been rehearsing for months before COVID-19 canceled their show at the University Partners Showcase in New York City.

“Even though we may be all stuck remotely in our homes, we had the ability to harness the amazing power of dance, along with the use of some technology, and create something that can bring joy in a time of uncertainty,” said Alfonse Napolitano, a senior earning his BFA/BA in Dance and certification in Dance Education, who edited the piece and collaborated with senior Dance major Olivia Passarelli on the project.

Clubs Go Digital

Taking part in student activities is a big part of the Montclair State experience, and now even at home, many are remaining active participants.

“Before all this happened it always felt like you were going to get out of a situation, what you put into it,” Coleman said. “I tell new students, ‘Even Disneyland would be boring if you only stayed in the parking lot.’”

In trying to make some “magical moments,” the Center for Student Involvement has moved everything online. “Some of the things we are doing might feel silly but we want people to de-stress. We want them to laugh,” Coleman said. This has included spirit week, and cooking and baking tutorials. Through Instagram stories, students are voting on the best cereal of all time, with the intention of raising awareness on the importance of registering to vote.

The SGA election included an online candidate debate that saw more participation than ever before. “The process wouldn’t have been possible if we did not already live in a digital age where transitioning online is an easy step to adapt to,” said Andrew Moya, a sophomore majoring in Animation the SGA executive vice president-elect.

“Getting involved gives students a sense of community, friendship and values that they might not get or have at home, said Student Communications Manager Hannah Wiese ’13. “Maybe they found themselves at Montclair State and called it their home.”

Apps Bring Them Together

Zoom, the video-chatting app has exploded in popularity in the pandemic. Alexa Vreeland, a senior Exercise Science Pre-Clinical major, connects with friends for a weekly card game. Julia Radley, a sophomore studying Communication and Media Studies, celebrated her birthday with a bunch of Zoomers.

Then there are the date night movies on Netflix Party. Video chats. Musical performances by students at the John J. Cali School of Music.

Missing sports? The Student Recreation Center is providing virtual programs and online fitness workouts, including cardio kickboxing, Zumba and yoga, to help students maintain their physical and mental well-being.

Montclair State’s field hockey team found a way to stay active and raise the awareness of social distancing with the viral “Toilet Paper Challenge.” In their Instagram video, teammates show off their skills virtually passing a roll of toilet paper from player to player. Creative editing combines their video clips to make the play seamless.

“It was so funny to see what my teammates could come up – (running backwards on a treadmill, adding pet goats to the scene) – and it was nice to ‘be together’ without being together, if that makes sense,” said Keeley Winn, a senior majoring in Family Science and Human Development.

Even the school mascot, Rocky the Red Hawk, is using Zoom and social media to maintain a sense of normalcy for students while social distancing from his “nest.”

With a little help from his Team Rocky friends Daniel Waffenfeld ’17, a Student Communications graduate assistant, and Paul McGroarty, a graduating senior film major, Rocky posted a video showing how he is staying virtually connected with his friends, the other university mascots.

Rocky filmed the video and is working on other surprises for the campus community, says Waffenfeld, “to help cheer up the student body, staff and faculty during these challenging times.”

Silver Linings

In the midst of the pandemic, Montclair State’s student media have picked up a number of significant awards.

The student newspaper, The Montclarion, which continues publishing by switching to an all-digital format, recently won 10 New Jersey Press Foundation awards.

WMSC-FM’s Station Manager Hiral Patel, who was recently named Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s “Best Station Manager in the Nation,” staying safe (in a photo taken before the majority of students left campus to finish the semester at home).
WMSC-FM’s Station Manager Hiral Patel, who was recently named Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s “Best Station Manager in the Nation,” staying safe (in a photo taken before the majority of students left campus to finish the semester at home).

WMSC-FM’s Station Manager Hiral Patel, who was recently named Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s “Best Station Manager in the Nation,” staying safe (in a photo taken before the majority of students left campus to finish the semester at home).

WMSC-FM’s Station Manager Hiral Patel, a senior majoring in Political Science, was awarded first place from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, being named “Best Station Manager in the Nation.”

The crisis has helped her “understand that there are ways to stay connected with your community and people even during tough times,” Patel said. “Life is about taking risks. If you really say you want something, then go get it, do not make excuses for yourself.”

Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren