Thanksgiving at Court 17

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How do you serve turkey and all the fixings to more than 100 socially-distanced residence hall students?

Roast turkey breast. Garlic Yukon mashed potatoes. Smoked mushroom stuffing. Sage Gravy. Roasted carrots and fennel. Orange cranberries. Maple-candied yams. Pumpkin mousse cups.

Is your mouth watering yet? Sounds like a great Thanksgiving feast.

It’s what the residents of UW Tacoma’s Court 17 will be eating this year, thanks to some quick thinking by campus leaders and a local catering firm.

The meal is packaged ready to be reheated in Court 17 residents’ microwaves. Cranberry relish and gravy are on the side.

Court 17 is UW Tacoma’s first and, so far, only residence hall. At full capacity it houses almost 300 students. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, occupancy has been reduced to 110 – every unit is now housing only one individual with no roommates.

Ramon Borunda, seen here his son Elias, is UW Tacoma’s associate director of residence life. Behind them are boxes of Thanksgiving meals.Something else to know about campus — there is not yet a dining program. Every Court 17 unit has a full kitchen, with stove, oven and microwave. And there is a common kitchen for group meals. Food normally is an important way the RAs in Court 17 knit students together into a community.

All the communal aspects have been put on hold by the coronavirus. Sure, students can still cook for themselves in their apartments, but how many college students do you know that are skilled in turkey roasting and pumpkin moussing?

Enter Ms. M

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Mentha Hynes-Wilson (aka “Ms. M”) knows that students are going through a lot this year. She and her team have been working hard to provide opportunities for connecting despite the virus.

She had been meeting with local restaurateur and caterer John Xitco, whose X Group owns such Tacoma dining establishments as Asado and Engine House 9. They had been brainstorming an idea to bring a food truck to the UW Tacoma campus. (That may or may not happen, but that is a story for another time.)

Ms. M knew that the residents of Court 17 — who have been carefully observing social distancing, masking and hygiene protocols for months* — deserved a treat. Soon, an order for 100+ Thanksgiving meals was placed with the X Group, paid for with funds from the Chancellor’s office.

And on Nov. 25, Hynes-Wilson and Associate Vice Chancellor Bernard Anderson ferried neatly plated and packaged feasts through the Court 17 front door.

Mentha Hynes-Wilson and Bernard Anderson discuss whether microwave or oven is the best heating method.

Season to Be Thankful

Mikayle Boswell is an RA at Court 17 and a UW Tacoma senior studying communications. He was on hand to get the Thanksgiving meals distributed to residents.

This is Boswell’s second year as an RA. He noted how different the work is this year from last.

“It’s definitely been a weird transition,” said Boswell. “There are a lot fewer people in the building. But my experience has been good. The students on my floor are participating in the events that we organize. They are checking in and understanding the restrictions we have now on our jobs as RAs.”

Ramon Borunda, the campus associate director for residence life, said that personal connection is the key to getting students engaged on campus. “Everything has kind of shifted. Usually we depend on face-to-face contact with students as a way of getting to know them, and to find out about their issues at school or at home.”

“We’ve been able to shift that through, for example, Zoom meetings. Mikayle uses Discord to communicate with his residents and keep a constant channel open. The underlying foundation of our work with the residents is to let them know that we are there for them if they ever need us. We don’t want them to feel alone.”

Mikayle Boswell, RA and senior in communications, is in the kitchen of a Court 17 apartment.

This Thanksgiving is unlike any in recent memory. There is no way that one dinner, no matter how fancy, can smooth over all the rough edges of being a college student during a pandemic. Likewise, students in Court 17 are fortunate to have a place to live, and to have campus staff looking out for their welfare. There are many in our community who don’t necessarily have those blessings.

Nonetheless, Thanksgiving 2020 at Court 17 is a time when residents can take stock and feel thankful: that the academic quarter is almost over, that they are healthy, that perhaps 2021 will bring vaccines and a reemergence. All while digging in to turkey breast and mushroom stuffing with gravy.

(*-As of this writing, no residents of Court 17 have tested positive for COVID-19, and no cases of the illness in the UW Tacoma community have been traced to exposures occurring on the UW Tacoma campus.)

Section: 
Written by: 
John Burkhardt / November 25, 2020
Photos by: 
John Burkhardt
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu