“SCREAMING BINGO! COVIDeos! NEW WEEKLY PUZZLE! PEN PALS! & MORE!”
Undergraduate students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) are well-familiar with these raucous, all-caps subject lines hitting their inboxes like glitter-filled paintballs. The joyful missives are weekly activity updates from Tyler Goss, the assistant director of student programs and Hillside residence director.
When he’s crafting and coordinating campus-wide events, Goss knows, “if I laugh when a new idea hits me, then that’s a sign of a worthwhile event.”
Even during a pandemic, Goss is still finding ways to get students laughing, sharing, and supporting one another through virtual means. The aforementioned “Screaming Bingo” has been his favorite so far – with the few students left on campus spread far apart on Thomas Plaza, other students joining from home via video chat, and Goss shouting out bingo numbers through a megaphone from the Campus Center balcony.
“It felt like the perfect event to keep things light and lively during these strange times,” he says. Other recent hits include virtual trivia, live streamed yoga with Professor Justin Poole, and a blanket fort challenge.
“People went ALL OUT!” for that one, says Goss. Which is no surprise, given the inspiring “COVIDeo” tutorial he produced, called ‘How to Fort,’ which you can watch below. “Entire basements were converted into blanket mansions with the fort being subdivided into multiple rooms.”
How does he come up with these shenanigans?
“It’s sort of like the ‘Yes, and’ rule of improv,” says Goss, referencing the rule of thumb in theater improvisation where you build a skit by accepting what another actor just said – and then taking it further. “A student suggests an ambitious idea to me, or a ridiculous thought hits my head, and I just go with it: ‘Yes! That’s it… and what else can we do with that!?’”
He also brainstorms with his student programs colleagues Rachel Roth Sawatzky and Shelby Alto, and student workers in the Campus Activities Council. And when he needs a bit of inspiration, social media platforms like TikTok are chock full of ideas for how to make people laugh.
Goss first came to EMU as a grad student – he holds a master of divinity from the Eastern Mennonite Seminary and a master’s degree in conflict transformation from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
“I came to EMU because I wanted to go to a quality Anabaptist seminary, but I also wanted to pursue a dual master’s degree in peacebuilding. You can’t get any better than EMU for that combo,” Goss said. He’s now been a residence director here for four years, and the assistant director of student programs for two years.
“Tyler has a great attitude and his positive spirit is infectious,” said Roth Sawatzky. “He continues his important work of building community and connecting students with each other and the broader EMU experience despite our current dispersed reality. When we initially discussed what this time would look like from a program perspective, his eyes were literally sparkling with excitement over the creative opportunities ahead.”
The activities Goss organizes offer different comforts for students struggling with social distancing – ways to see familiar faces, voice concerns and questions, or just lighten up a day inundated with Zoom-based classwork. Ultimately, though, “being so distant from one another is hard, so we are trying to sustain the connectedness EMU is known for,” says Goss.
That connectedness is more important now than ever, although it takes a bit more creativity and technology to curate. To quote one of Goss’s tongue-in-cheek emails, “As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘the internet can’t stop me!’”