Life at Trinity Halls: What happens to a social hotspot when socializing is restricted

As Ireland adapts to life in Level 5, hundreds of residents have been finding ways to maintain the camaraderie of Halls

Tucked away into a corner of Rathmines, Trinity Hall is, for many, a sentimental milestone from first year, often associated with the rows of dimly-lit kitchens late at night, cold walks back along Dartry road, and the famously vibrant social scene. Throw together a global pandemic, the move to a nationwide Level 5 lockdown, and hundreds of first years living within the same block in South Dublin, though, and it’s safe to say that the Trinity Halls experience this year is vastly different from what past residents will remember. 

Everyone should feel safe and secure in their home and these new regulations help to ensure that we are protecting Trinity Hall as a home for the students who are here at this difficult time”

In line with the IUA recommendations, Halls has enforced a no-parties, no non-residents on site, and no movement between apartments policy, meaning first years, JCR members and wardens alike have been forced to find ways to maintain the traditional positive aspects of the Halls game on a vastly different playing field. “When students arrive here I take seriously the fact that Trinity Hall is their home for the year,” said Dr. Roja Fazaeli, the Head Warden. “Everyone should feel safe and secure in their home and these new regulations help to ensure that we are protecting Trinity Hall as a home for the students who are here at this difficult time.” 

However, Dr. Fazaeli admits that these restrictions do not come without consequences for residents, particularly in terms of increased physical, emotional and mental health needs. “It has been very difficult to advance the vital public health demands and regulations while also fostering the camaraderie that makes Hall a special place,” she said. “College Health Service, Student Counselling, Disability Service, and Trinity Sport, amongst others, have been tremendous in their responses to this. But the reality is, of course, that many of these needs are inextricably tied up with the social side of Trinity Hall.”

Indeed, with the vast majority of Halls residents being first years, many are finding one of the biggest difficulties to be replicating the social aspect that normally comes with living away from home in the midst of strict regulations and government guidelines. “For me, the biggest challenge of living at Halls this year was becoming accustomed to being by myself almost all of the time,” said Catherine Tamarelli, a first year from New Jersey. “Halls is normally supposed to have a really vibrant social scene, but as a first year student, I have trouble imagining that because I’ve only known it in the semi-dead state it’s in now.”

Amidst this “semi-dead” state, however, residents have been finding ways to make friends and form connections where they can find them. First year Senia Magzumos is among those who have found that a side effect of the restrictions has been the community of Halls becoming just a little more tight-knit. “I must admit I imagined spending less time at the accommodation and more on campus, but in general it’s been pretty cool, and I’m getting along with all my flatmates really nice,” she said. “I have to admit I am grateful to not live alone. It is really nice to have people who feel the same as you are, and it makes you feel like you’re not alone.”

This sense of community is exactly what the JCR, the student-led body of previous residents dedicated to running events and providing support for residents, has been striving to create this year. For second year and President Alex Clark, maintaining the energy and excitement that typically comes with Halls in such an unconventional time is one of the top priorities of his team. “The team has been working incredibly hard to make sure that each and every resident has the opportunity to get everything they want from this year, whether it be socially, academically or athletically,” he said. “The JCR are working so hard to plan an active and engaging social calendar, compliant with all college rules and government advice in order to give residents an outlet and chance to maximise their college experience all whilst staying safe.” 

I think finding new ways to meet people and make friends has to be the biggest challenge residents are facing this year, but that in itself presents opportunities for really strong connections”

Clark, too, recognizes that the recent national move to Level 5 and subsequent push for stricter lockdown measures has thrown in additional obstacles for first years set on making new friends, but also encourages Halls residents to stay optimistic and take advantage of their chances where they get them. “I think finding new ways to meet people and make friends has to be the biggest challenge residents are facing this year, but that in itself presents opportunities for really strong connections with the people you meet doing your laundry, or outside by the benches, or in a ‘state of the art’ JCR Virtual event,” he said. “Ultimately, we recognise that the new rules are leaving students feeling isolated and the JCR are here to support any student who is having difficulty right now.” 

For Dr. Fazaeli, the evolution of the JCR to adapt to the changing times and needs of students has been one the most gratifying side effects of the year so far. “Having the chance to get to know the JCR each year is frankly one of the most rewarding things about this position. I must really thank the JCR once again for the way they have been leaders at Trinity Hall this year,” she said. “It is not the year they had planned for and yet slowly they are making it into a year of their own.” 

In this same spirit, Clark would advise residents to embrace the opportunity of living at Halls and make the most of their time there, no matter how unconventional the year may be. “Every second counts. The year will fly by, and before I know it, I’ll be congratulating next year’s president on their win,” he said. “Make the most of every opportunity, don’t take yourself too seriously and have fun.”

One of the things this pandemic has compelled us to consider in a new light is how the meaning of community here changes when the work of building friendships and social outlets must be done at a distance”

As Ireland approaches the remaining five weeks of lockdown and the school year continues, albeit largely online, Dr. Fazaeli emphasized the growing focus on the importance of community in these times. “One of the things this pandemic has compelled us to consider in a new light is how the meaning of community here changes when the work of building friendships and social outlets must be done at a distance,” she said. “By and large residents have been tremendously respectful of each other and the staff here, and I think that most are handling this situation with a sense of determination, good humour, and a modicum of innovation.”

Olivia Flaherty-Lovy

Olivia Flaherty-Lovy

Olivia Flaherty-Lovy is the Features Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh student of English Studies.