While most students have left campus, students can still engage with the USC community through virtual engagement opportunities.

USC Student Affairs wants to ensure that students have the resources they need to maintain their mental health while following social distancing protocols. Cooking tutorials, virtual gatherings, at-home workout videos and online games are just a few of the many options.

Emily Sandoval, the Interim Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, said in an interview over the phone that USC wants to help students to stay connected and engaged during this period of online learning.

“USC Student Affairs created a central place for students to learn about virtual activities that USC departments are hosting and to learn about opportunities that already exist online,” Dr. Sandoval said.

Meanwhile, the USC Student Affairs website is constantly being updated with new opportunities for students thanks to the growing participation of campus partners and USC Student Affairs professionals.

“As we move forward, we will include daily spotlights and other new features that help USC students remain engaged,” said Dr. Sandoval. “We wanted to ensure that there is content for all students and their families.”

Although USC sophomore Hayley Piazza has been living by herself in USC housing, she said that she has been able to take care of her mental health by staying on top of her workouts, facetiming friends and family, streaming movies and TV shows and using social media, like TikTok.

“Some days are harder than others, and it does get a bit lonely because I’m staying at my apartment alone,” said Piazza. “I try to combat this by finding creative ways to spend my time and staying positive.”

Piazza said that she was not aware of USC’s virtual engagement opportunities, and that the school should advertise the program more in order to make sure students are aware of their resources.

USC student Sofia Fruet was also unaware of USC’s virtual engagement opportunities. She said that she has been actively using Zoom and FaceTime in order to stay on top of classes and maintain connections with friends and family. Fruet also said that her job is keeping her busy.

“I luckily still have my job and have been working, so I have been relatively occupied,” said Fruet. “It can be hard to be focused or productive at all when you are at home. Especially when you have nothing to look forward to and work towards.”

In a phone call interview, Professor Lawrence Palinkas spoke about why this time might be especially challenging for students. He said that the isolation that is necessary for social distancing can be a major source of stress.

“The fact that students are being asked to complete courses of instruction while not being present on campus, not being able to physically interact with professors and fellow students, can be very stressful,” Palinkas said.

However, he praised the university’s efforts to promote social engagement online as a method to reduce stress and anxiety.

“One of the things we are learning from this experience is that students are coming to appreciate the importance of social engagement,” said Palinkas. “Even though people may be isolated physically, that doesn't mean they need to be isolated socially from others.”

L.A. County Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin echoed some of these same ideas, reminding Los Angeles residents in a press conference that despite orders of social distancing, people are still able to stay virtually connected. Sherin encouraged people to turn to healthy ways of dealing with the lack of social interaction rather than unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol.

“The mental health ramifications [of too little social engagement] are significant,” Dr. Sherin said.

While there is still plenty of uncertainty around the future, students may be comforted to know that with these virtual engagement opportunities, like the Trojan family, they can continue to “fight on,” virtually.