Campus Conversation: Tom Santaniello

"Obviously, things look different all over campus because of COVID-19, and Housing is no exception. The biggest difference is my job this year is an emphasis on virtual engagement. We want to make sure that we're still connecting with residents and facilitating meaningful relationships, but we also want to provide a safe place for that. It's about finding creative ways to allow students to have that first-year experience while ensuring that our communities stay safe. We’ve really been emphasizing wearing a face covering and encouraging them to make the right decisions both in and out of the residence hall. There's also the need for physical distancing, so whenever we’re interacting with residents, we’re making sure we’re respecting all public health guidelines and encouraging them to do the same so that we can all stay safe and have a great semester. COVID-19 definitely adds a bit of anxiety to everything, so we’re also focusing on the residents' mental health. It's just been reaching out and doing our best to help put their mind at ease that we’re here for them and committed to keeping our community safe both physically and mentally.  
Following the events of this summer, I really wanted to find a way to help make our community a more inclusive space. Something I had learned as an RM last year is that a lot of first-year students had never had serious conversations surrounding diversity or inclusion. I talked to a couple of my supervisors within Housing and reached out to someone on my staff, Cecelia Tatro, who were great resources as I developed some I started up a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative called “Real Talk: Social Justice Series,” along with some other RMs in both Capstone and Columbia Hall with guidance from the Capstone Scholars Program. This is going to be a space for peer-to-peer interactions where we’ll be going over a book, article, documentary — really any type of medium that we think gives students some added perspective. We’re going to be meeting once or twice every month, with the flexibility to meet virtually if someone doesn’t feel comfortable meeting in person. It’s really a place for people to talk about their experiences and share their perspectives, so we can all gain deeper understandings of other peoples’ experiences what they don’t understand. I wanted to provide a space for students to challenge their own personal ways of thinking and encourage them to hear diverse points of view, so they can gain that understanding. We’re in such a divisive climate as a society, and I really just want people to have a space to share their feelings regardless of what it is they're thinking."

Tom Santaniello, senior broadcast journalism major

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