Carolina Housing offers engagement opportunities over winter break

While there’s no place like home for the holidays, Carolina Housing is making spirits bright for the Tar Heels staying in their campus homes over winter break.

A holly leaf sitting on the sidewalk by the Old Well.

In a typical year, fewer than 40 students stay in campus housing over winter break. But this year, with the pandemic making it difficult for some students to return home, more than 300 Carolina students are planning to remain on campus throughout the nearly 50-day break.

And while there’s no place like home for the holidays, Carolina Housing is making spirits bright for the Tar Heels staying in their campus homes.

“The numbers alone tell the story of why there was a need for a special kind of engagement this year,” said Mariam Azzam, assistant director of marketing for Carolina Housing. “Our main goal is to keep in constant contact with winter break housing students, in non-traditional ways, to help keep a fun and healthy line of connection in the hopes of helping to stave off that feeling of isolation and loneliness, especially because campus is much emptier than usual.”

In addition to programming created by Carolina Housing, such as virtual trivia nights and a weekly newsletter series, various University departments and organizations are partnering up with Housing to offer special programs and resources for students on campus throughout the extended break, which lasts until Jan. 13.

“For Carolina Housing, we tout these cross-campus partnerships as being one of the main advantages to living on campus as they are essential to our operations. We do a great deal for our student residents within our department, but the collaboration with campus partners is something that is an absolute asset,” Azzam said. “Everybody is in agreement that our main goal is to fully support our Tar Heels at all times.”

While some virtual events are live, other campus partners are offering resources and activities for students to do at their own pace, such as Carolina Dining Service’s virtual winter break bingo card, which includes tips on how to practice healthy eating and living habits throughout the break.

Students wanting to get in touch with their creative side can pick up art supplies from the Morrison Art Studio and view exclusive Arts Everywhere tutorials tailored to their supplies. When students finish their artwork, they get to keep the supplies and can even exchange their creations with other students through Arts Everywhere’s Art Pen Pals program.

“With this program, we wanted to create opportunities for students to connect with each other, whether they’re on campus, near campus or across the country, and to use the arts as a springboard for those new connections,” said Crystal Wu, marketing and development communications manager for Arts Everywhere.

Students are also able to connect virtually through a GroupMe organized by Carolina Housing. Azzam and her team send messages to the group each day with reminders and engagement opportunities, such as book recommendations and event reminders, but the students have also used the platform to foster a sense of community with one another.

“I love the camaraderie that has blossomed from within this group, especially in the GroupMe,” Azzam said. “There’s a lot more engagement, which is why we chose to go that route because it’s immediate, and it’s a text message directly to your phone.”

Ziqian Xu, a senior psychology major from China, decided to stay on campus over the break because she was worried about traveling internationally during the pandemic. She said the winter break programming has helped her feel connected to other students and supported by Carolina Housing.

“I sincerely appreciate having somewhere to stay during the pandemic. The winter program feels especially ‘at home’ because we actually have a group chat, so there is a sense that there are other people with similar situations,” Xu said. “The enrichment events offered by the winter program also gives me a sense that students staying over winter break are being valued and cared for.”