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All hands on deck: Welcoming Oxford students to Atlanta

Stephanie Maddox and Frad Barry, residence life coordinators at Oxford College, welcome students to Emory’s Atlanta campus on Saturday, March 28. “One thing we talk about here often is creating a community of care,” Maddox says.

The shuttles came steadily Saturday morning, two every 30 minutes, headed down the highway from Emory’s Oxford College in Oxford, Georgia, to the university’s Atlanta campus.

The 49 Oxford students who remained on Oxford’s campus were given a snack bag with fruit, yogurt, bottled water and chips. They spaced themselves out in the shuttle to keep a safe distance and settled in for the ride to the Clairmont campus, where they would move into an apartment with a private bathroom.

“Our teams at Oxford and in Atlanta worked so closely together, and staff members thought of even the smallest details,” says Michele Hempfling, director of residential education and services (RES) at Oxford College. “For example, at Oxford the students had twin beds and Clairmont has full beds, so thankfully someone had the proper sheets available for them.”  

Normally, students who attend Oxford College of Emory transition to the Atlanta campus in the fall of their junior year to finish their undergraduate degrees. But with most of the 850 current students having left the campus by March 22 to finish the remainder of the semester remotely at home or elsewhere, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was not a typical move.

“Move-in day is usually full of cheering, high-fives and hugs, and clearly we couldn’t do that,” says Hempfling. “But the students still got an attentive send-off by our team and a very warm welcome by the team in Atlanta. They had a lot of questions but were smiling, very sweet and pleasant, grateful to have the assistance.”

Oxford’s RES team has been busy for much of the month, preparing for most students to move off campus. But students with extenuating circumstances, such as international students who could not return home, were allowed to stay in the residence halls.

“The RES staff at Oxford have been incredible,” says Cathy Wooten, director of communications at Oxford. “At first they thought they were hosting the Oxford students approved to remain for remote learning for the rest of the semester at Oxford. Then last weekend it was clear that there were enough units in Atlanta to give every student a private room and private bath. It was of course the right decision to move the students to Atlanta, so they changed course toward doing the logistics for that — all with compassion and good humor.”

Smoothing the transition 

Staff began telling Oxford students on Monday and Tuesday to pack their belongings. On Friday, professional movers began showing up to move the boxes to Atlanta. “This is the first time we’ve ever had to plan something like this,” Hempfling says. “Quite a number of movers helped us. There were about two movers per room and within three hours, all possessions were packed on trucks. This was all coordinated by Luetrell Langston, building and residential services area manager for Oxford, and Randy Simon, director of facilities planning and operations.”

Once the trucks were loaded, the shuttle transport kicked in, which was coordinated by Julie Elion, Oxford auxiliary manager, who usually handles dining and mail services and oversees transportation. There were five to seven students in each shuttle to allow for safe spacing, and they left Oxford at 9, 9:30, 10 and 10:30 a.m. to make the approximately 45-minute trip to Atlanta.

“That allowed us to stagger students’ arrivals at Clairmont,” says Hempfling. “When they arrived, staff was outside reminding them to stand in line six feet apart to get their room keys. Oxford RES team walked with students down to where the movers were — the same ones who came Friday morning — and they walked with the students to their new rooms with all their stuff. It was well organized.”

Stephanie Maddox and Frad Barry, residence life coordinators at Oxford College, welcomed students to Emory’s Atlanta campus, holding signs and helping to direct them.

“We pointed out important buildings such as their new residence hall and where they would pick up their meals and mail,” says Maddox, residence life coordinator of Fleming Hall at Oxford. “We also just talked to them, to see how things were going and answer any questions that they had about the Clairmont campus.”

A lot of Atlanta’s campus life and residence life staff and leadership were also on hand to welcome the students, including Enku Gelaye, Emory vice president and dean of campus life; David Clark, associate vice president of campus life and university services; and Scott Rausch, senior director of residence life.

“I’ve been at Oxford 10 years and have always valued working with our counterparts in Atlanta, but never more than now,” Hempfling says. “I am thankful that these relationships were already created so we could immediately start working together. We were on Zoom calls with Scott’s team by day 2. As much as we are physically apart as campuses, we have never been more in synch. We always say it takes both campuses to support our students, especially when transitioning. No way we could have done this transition without them.”

Joe Moon, dean for campus life at Oxford, says the RES team at Oxford has always been the most student-facing staff, as they are on the front lines of caring for residential students. “They were able to make the transition for these students as smooth as possible,” Moon says. “Now we shift to supporting Oxford students in Atlanta and around the world, in our new online community.”

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