Baylor helps students maintain social and spiritual community despite the distance.
By Lane Murphy, BA ’04, MA ’06
Long-distance relationships are hard. When students left campus for spring break, they assumed they would see their classmates, friends and “significant others” in a few short days. That didn’t happen.
Instead, thousands of students were dispersed across the country and around the globe to just about every state and practically every continent (none are known to be in Antarctica).
The University rapidly equipped faculty to modify their in-person courses to be taught remotely, instantly converting kitchen tables, bedrooms and home offices into satellite Baylor classrooms.
Academic instruction continued, but what about relationships? What about community? These also are hallmarks of a Baylor education.
Staff and student leaders from the Student Life division quickly found creative ways to craft virtual versions of many of the iconic activities that typically enhance campus life. Dr Pepper Hour continued digitally with President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., First Gent Brad and daughter Shelby whipping up a batch of the favored floats from their kitchen during a Facebook Live event.
The Baylor social media team shifted its focus to helping students stay connected, both to Baylor and one another. That took many forms: Facebook Live Q&As with President Livingstone, increased use of videos and photos that showcased campus landmarks students missed, and direct encouragements to students to check in with Baylor and their friends via comments on Instagram (generally students’ favorite platform).
Diadeloso went digital with a technology-enhanced fun run, Super Smash Brothers tournament, online dog show and virtual lunch with Baylor mascots Judge Joy and Judge Lady. The Social Distancing Day of the Bear wrapped up with a live-stream couch concert featuring Christian recording artist Phil Wickham.
The University’s community service outreach, Steppin’ Out, became the Steppin’ In Challenge, encouraging students, faculty and alumni to find ways to serve wherever they were.
Individually, students employed technologies like Zoom, Netflix Party and online gaming enhanced by FaceTime or Discord to bridge the distance dictated by the pandemic.
Spiritual Life staff members remained in contact with students in a number of ways.
“We created a ministry plan to be in touch with and available to students to help encourage them to meditate on God’s word, particularly as it comes to understanding that we serve a sovereign God, he’s in control. None of this has taken him by surprise,” Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president of Student Life, said during a Baylor Connections podcast.
Students continued to meet for accountability and discipleship in virtual small groups with fellow students and for weekly worship gatherings streamed to maintain corporate connections. Local college pastors and ministry leaders shared podcasts or routinely interacted via social media to continue serving and equipping students for ministry.
FM72, a relatively new campus tradition, had significant impact this spring with thousands participating online April 13-15. Inspired by the 90 days of prayer for revival initiated by Baylor students in 1945, FM72 is a 72-hour prayer and worship event typically held on Fountain Mall.
“FM72 was an incredible way to stay connected with Baylor and the Waco community,” sophomore Carlie Dill of Georgetown, Texas, said. “It was great to see the church and Baylor come together to put on such a powerful event for students.”
Students from dozens of local church college ministries and organizations — coordinated by Baptist Student Ministries at Baylor — united for continuous prayer and nightly worship through online prayer rooms and streaming worship services.
Houston senior Jacob Lackey, head of production for FM72 and Vertical Ministries, said the online experience’s extended reach was an unexpected benefit of the format change. “We heard countless stories of students praying with others from Baylor and other universities, and countries as far away as Singapore and several African nations.”
Baylor’s May 2020 class missed out on the traditional graduation programs and ceremonies, but the University celebrated the graduates virtually nonetheless. Popular professors and prominent alumni offered video encouragements, and Career Center experts shared tips via Facebook Live. Additionally, Baylor provided livestream coverage as the names of graduates were displayed on the McLane Stadium videoboard — an event that reached more than 300,000 people.