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When community goes viral

When community goes viral

Teri Rizvi June 23, 2020

As the Ebony Heritage Singers finished the soulful finale of “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” graduating music major Jack Destephano pumped his fist in the air and let out a joyous whoop from his living room in 2006_cvd_img_block.jpgJohnsburg, Illinois.

Nearly 350 miles away in the comfort of her Dayton home, music professor Donna Cox shook her head and laughed. “NOBODY but Jack Destephano would create what would end up being an amazing conclusion to the virtual commencement,” she posted on Facebook.

From Cleveland, art teacher Allison Gallucci Lowery ’13 chimed, “Miss singing with you all. But this got me singin’ at home.” Retired provost John Geiger weighed in from Green Valley, Arizona: “Wow! That is exhilarating.” Even a toddler caught the spirit: “This definitely brightened my day! And our almost 2-year-old was trying to sing along by the end,” said former Ebony Heritage singer Liz Bunk Funke ’12 from Findlay, Ohio.


Even from home, Dayton Flyers know how to create community across the physical-distancing divide. The University of Dayton is writing a case study — one Zoom meal, one porch concert, one live chat at a time.

illustration of computer videochat and coronavirusPresident Eric F. Spina and his wife, Karen, decided to try to replicate one of their favorite experiences — sharing a homecooked meal with students. Still, when their dinner this spring with the seven women in the faith, vocation and leadership legacy house was moved to the internet, Spina wondered if it was even possible to “break bread via Zoom and create the same warmth, hospitality — and connection.”

“As (housemate) Ashley Kush asked us to center ourselves and thank God for ‘the space to share in community across the states,’ all my doubts evaporated,” he blogged. “Karen and I truly felt as though we were in the students’ home on College Park, under the Christmas lights they hung in their prayer room and among the random Post-it notes of encouragement (‘You da bomb’) found in unexpected places around the house. I could see in my mind’s eye the plethora of photos they lovingly displayed under housemate Kristen Sanson’s sign in the living room, ‘Your friends become your chosen family.’”

“Your friends become your chosen family.”

When the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception temporarily closed its sturdy, wooden doors, allowing only private prayer and reflection, the Campus Ministry team brainstormed ways to creatively build a faith community without people in the pews. They created short virtual prayer services at noon, a digital retreat and weekly livestream prayer experiences that invited participants to share messages of gratitude and hope as well as music requests through chat.

They also found ways to continue gathering community in times of grief and strife, and to continue work toward social justice. With the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and widespread protests happening in response, Campus Ministry organized a virtual prayer service and a virtual meal in their Table of Plenty series to discuss racism and outrage.


Campus Ministry is also finding ways to continue celebration. On Easter the undergraduate music ministers serenaded the faithful with “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” — sung from their bedrooms and living rooms, complete with a small orchestra playing the violin, trombone, cello and piano from afar.

“We are really living the paschal mystery as a community and as citizens of the world in ways that we have never really known before,” said Crystal Sullivan, executive director of Campus Ministry. “This has been an experience of grieving and loss, but it has also been one of hope — witnessing the resilience and creativity we have as a community to be present to one another authentically. That is the mystery of the life of Christ, present among us, in action.”

No one sells the campus experience better than a tour guide walking backward, pointing out landmarks and telling personal stories.

Today, the admission office’s counselors are chatting with students over coffee as student ambassadors give prospective students the scoop on campus life — all virtually.

“We are working with each and every family every step of the way and, in doing so, we’re truly replicating the feeling of being home on our campus,” said Jason Reinoehl, vice president for strategic enrollment management.

From a teach-in on The Pandemic and the Common Good to a weekly live stream of Sunday Mass from the small chapel of a Marianist house on Chambers Street, from spirited porch concerts by music students to interactive presentations of senior capstone projects, the UD community is connecting in creative ways — and discovering new ways of strengthening the bonds of community during tumultuous times.

If porches are a visual symbol of community at UD, the amusing, often-philosophical porch sheets around the nation that fly in the breeze capture the spirit of this moment.

This one hanging from the porch of UD graphic designer Brent Beck says it all: “Even apart, we are one.”

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