It was March 17 and the campus community was informed that students living on campus would be asked to find alternative housing. Safety amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus was of paramount concern.
Anabel Chavva was in her student union office when she got the news. She immediately started making calls — first to the students in UNLV’s Homeless Outreach Program for Education Scholars.
Chavva is the coordinator for the program, which helps secure housing and financial assistance for students who have identified themselves experiencing homelessness, including those who grew up in the foster care system.
A virtual alternative
Campus life changed in an instant. But the commitment to provide programming for students to keep them engaged did not.
“We want to show students their voices are being heard," said Anabel Chavva, a program coordinator in UNLV's Division of Student Affairs. "They want to engage in these programs. We want to find a medium, whether it’s Canvas (UNLV’s online class management system) or Instagram Live or Facebook live."
Student groups and campus organizations have transitioned their programming online and are working on tools to extend accessibility.
Things like the Virtual Netflix Party run by the Rebel Events Board last week help keep students connected with each other.
Exercise routines, identity month celebrations, health tips, student updates, and remote learning tips are some of the topics you’ll find through these Instagram accounts:
She has worked with the HOPE Scholars for the last two years and is aware of the various challenges they have gone through to make it to UNLV in first place. Multiple moves that led to attending multiple schools growing up. Couch surfing. Broken familial ties and emotional trauma.
Leaving UNLV — their primary home now — could be devastating.
What Chavva and her colleagues have learned about young adults who have experienced housing insecurity is that students are looking for support but are sometimes reluctant to share their experiences.
“They may not be on anyone’s radar. It’s hard to have all of these burdens and nowhere to go for answers,” Chavva said.
Chavva is one of the many UNLV employees helping students in uncertain times. She works in Service Learning and Leadership, an office under the Student Affairs Division. The staff plans volunteer activities, hosts topical discussions, networking lunches, and leadership workshops for all students — including its monthly “Take What You Need” events to distribute necessities like hygiene supplies, grocery gift cards, clothes, and school supplies to any student.
The event had to be cancelled this month, just as cleaning and hygiene products flew off the store shelves and some students lost their service-industry jobs.
Some students, including the HOPE Scholars and those suddenly out of service jobs, struggled to get the basics, Chavva said. With that in mind, the office of student affairs created an Amazon wish list to help students living on campus. The items were purchased in three days thanks to UNLV’s Family Network, another Student Affairs initiative.
When students pick up their grocery bags in the coming weeks, they’ll find notes of encouragement from their respective colleges.
Emotional well-being is key to helping students adjust, Chavva said.
“I have heard many students say that they feel that they have more work than before,” she said. They’re stressed, grappling sudden changes in remote learning, economic hardship, and for seniors disappointment over the postponement of commencement.
“This pandemic is affecting them in more than just economic ways. Many are struggling still trying to process everything that is going on,” Chavva said