Virtual Community Thrives through SCORE

By Rachel Morrison

Jenn Wells, assistant dean and director of Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE), hosts virtual community meetings and office hours to support students from afar.

When Jenn Wells, assistant dean and director of Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE) began her online graduate program in organizational change and leadership, the last skill she expected to walk away with was expertise in virtual educational delivery. “I’m applying not just the content of my graduate work to my role as director of SCORE, but how that content is delivered and applying it to keeping the mission and actions of SCORE alive during the coronavirus shelter-in-place orders,” she says.

For many students, being on a college campus represents a safe space to explore and assert their identities. “Not everyone has great support at home, if they are LGBTQ, for example, their family might not be accepting, and campus is a safe space for them,” says Wells. On the flip side, other students may find college isolating or intimidating. “For some first-generation college students, intentionally connecting with other first-gens helps create a community of support and empowerment while navigating the college experience.” That’s where SCORE comes in.

During normal times, SCORE provides support to students and communities from identity-based organizations, such as Watu Weusi and Family. The program’s mission is to build an inclusive community through social justice programming with an emphasis on intersectionality. But what happens when there’s no longer a campus for student meetings and connection? “Even amid COVID-19, nothing has changed,” says Wells.

“We are still offering a full slate of programming designed so that students can engage at their level of ability and interest at this time,” continues Wells. To do so, the SCORE staff has implemented a mix of synchronous (events in real time) and asynchronous (content people can engage with at any time) materials, from holding Zoom office hours and hosting community dinners to posting community wellness content on social media for “Wellness Wednesdays” and “Turn Up Thursdays.”

In addition, the team has launched an April lunch series for “Ally Month.” A SCORE tradition rooted in practicing allyship for the LGBQT community, SCORE’s lunchtime discussions focus on extending the meaning of “ally” to encompass a wide swath of identities. “Our Ally Month programming extends to topics such as how to support non- cisgender-identifying students at a women’s college to combatting xenophobia in the era of the COVID-19 and promoting religious literacy to combat religious exclusion and discrimination,” Wells explains. Ally month programming, much of which is cosponsored by the IDEA initiative, will occur on Wednesdays from noon–1:00 p.m. on Zoom.

Sabina Hills-Villalobos, a senior SCORE participant who used to serve as the office manager, says that keeping SCORE programming active important right now because it gives students a sense of community and normalcy amid all the current upheaval. “It gives me part of my routine back,” she says. “Jenn and Maritza, the assistant director of SCORE, constantly make themselves available to listen to student needs, and I am in awe that they have managed to pull this off during a pandemic.”

For Wells, this drive stems from an abiding belief in the power of community. “We all have our usual day to day challenges and struggles, whether based on identity or what the world looks like, and this is complicated further by navigating a global pandemic,” says Wells. “We should remember to be graceful with ourselves and with others and continue to build community and work together—together, we can get a lot further.”