Growing an inclusive community in a remote environment

March 25, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Despite being separated by distance, Penn State students are continuing to build and strengthen community ties during the global coronavirus outbreak.

On Thursday, March 19, staff members and queer student leadership from the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CSGD) organized a virtual community check-in for Penn State students. More than 50 students attended the Zoom session, which offered a place to speak openly about challenges and concerns while building a community of support.

Brian Patchcoski, director of CSGD, shares more information about the community check-in as well as his thoughts on growing an inclusive Penn State community while learning and working remotely.

Q: What was the impetus behind having a virtual community support conversation?

Patchcoski: When we heard the news that the rest of the semester would take place via remote learning, we asked our student workers and queer student leaders how they thought we could take our physical community support space — where people come together to sit and be with one another — and make that virtual.

Out of that conversation came this idea of having a support check-in for the queer community via Zoom. Our student staffers worked quickly to spread the word via social media, and when it came time for the call, students started logging in and the screen filled up.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to hold these check-ins?

Patchcoski: One of the most remarkable things about the community check-in was not only for our staff members to be on the call and see faces on the other side of a computer, but also the smiles and glimpses of ‘I can see you right now and I know you’re okay.’

Many of our students are in places right now where maybe their families aren’t as understanding of who they are, and this community provides a space to talk about things that are happening, share concerns and clarify messages. Students have housing, family and job concerns, and this helped them express those in an open space.

Q: What other topics did students discuss during the check-in?

Patchcoski: Some of the simplest — but most powerful — ideas were about creating a routine when your routine has been taken away due to this pandemic. Students talked about getting up at the same time, taking a walk if they need one, getting away from the computer for fifteen minutes or creating a schedule for the day. We don’t always put value on those day-to-day adulting responsibilities, but since our day-to-day has shifted, bringing back those foundations of a routine is really important.

Q: Are you planning other virtual community-building events?

Patchcoski: We are going to continue these kinds of virtual conversations and are also transitioning other programming to help build our community. For example, our students talked about doing a virtual Zumba session. For people who might not have ever wanted to go to an in-person class, they can now try it in the privacy of their own space.

April is Pride Month for the University, and every year we hold our Lavender Graduation ceremony where we recognize graduate and undergraduate students and celebrate the year. While we are canceling the in-person ceremony, we are still going to recognize students as well as hold our end-of-year awards.

Q: What other resources can students take advantage of during this time?

Patchcoski: Our website offers a section on state, national and international resources for connecting where you’re at. We also created a site for summer and winter breaks that lists national hotlines and resources, and we are reusing and reformatting that information now given this situation.

People can still connect to staff members through our main phone number (814-863-1248), as well as our email address where people can reach out to schedule one-on-one Zoom or phone calls. It’s continuing to evolve, and we are continuing to create spaces for people to learn and navigate their identities.

Q: What’s your biggest piece of advice as others explore how to build community remotely?

Patchcoski: In conversations I’ve had with students, one of the things I’ve said to them is I really do believe they’re going to be the ones who tell us how to do this right now. It’s our community who will help us move forward in new ways. They will let us know when something isn’t working, and I think we need to be open to that. We need to be vulnerable and say we don’t have the perfect answer right now, but we can try something new, and if it doesn’t work out, what’s next?

For more information

For more information about resources provided by CSGD, visit the website.

For mental health resources and tips, read this Penn State News article on coping with uncertainties during the coronavirus pandemic.

'We Are' stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories. 

Visit to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. We are! 

  • A portrait of Brian Patchcoski

    Brian Patchcoski is the director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated April 15, 2021