South Africa: UCT Residences Roll Out Red Carpet for Students

As the University of Cape Town (UCT) prepares to start the 2021 academic year following strict COVID-19 guidelines, residence staff are rolling out the red carpet to welcome new and returning students back to campus.

Students have started arriving at their campus homes on condition that they adhere to a set of strict guidelines, which form part of UCT's 2021 physically distanced, low-density return-to-campus approach. All course lectures will still be offered online, but some faculties may offer face-to-face activities in small groups in well-ventilated spaces. The university has adopted this approach to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Shanaaz Sonday, the senior coordinator of residence operations, said that residence staff have been hard at work preparing residences for students. She said that they are excited to operate under the "new normal" and to have life back in residences after a full year.

"We [look forward] to having life back in our residences."

"We are all excited to see familiar faces and to engage with new students. We [look forward] to having life back in our residences. However, there is some trepidation among essential services staff who are concerned about the risk that comes with supporting and servicing more people," she said.

But if all staff and students adhere to the strict COVID-19 guidelines, which include wearing masks, maintaining the recommended social distance and practising proper hand hygiene, Sonday said that she is confident that reopening residences and campuses will be a seamless and beneficial process.

Need-to-knows for students

Be mindful: Residences' COVID-19 protocols have been implemented to keep students and staff safe. These rules are clearly visible in all residences. Students are encouraged to be mindful and to adhere to them at all times.

Respect and support one another: The strength of a community lies in how well everyone respects and supports one another, Sonday said. She urged students to remember that non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols places everyone at risk, especially those with comorbidities.

Communication is key: Students are urged to ask as many questions as they need to in order to avoid miscommunication and confusion. One question can make a big difference.

"Residences are our comfortable spaces and, once settled, it's easy to revert to familiar habits. And that's normally where things go wrong. During difficult times like these, we should act as each other's safety nets to get us through this time," Sonday said.

Support system

Sonday said that residences offer multiple layers of support to both staff and students. She said day shift residence operations officers and after-hours wardens and subwardens work as a team to support students in a number of ways. They also receive assistance from student leaders and other administration staff.

"Our teams have been working hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly, and we implore students to abide by the rules and to support these efforts."

However, if students choose not to make use of the residence-based support system, Sonday said that they are welcome to contact UCT's Student Wellness Service support line on 021 650 1017 for additional help. Students who experience any COVID-19 symptoms are urged to contact the COVID-19 Help Desk on 021 650 1271 / 021 650 5620 during office hours or email sws@uct.ac.za.

"As a department we are doing the best we can to implement our COVID-19 protocols. But these protocols are only really good if they are practised. Our teams have been working hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly, and we implore students to abide by the rules and to support these efforts."

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