On a spring day with temperatures topping 80 degrees, Lauredan Official, vice president of Student Government at the University of Florida, lugged boxes of more than 500 T-shirts from the student union to the Plaza of the Americas on UF’s campus. At the end of his mile-long slog, Official was greeted by excited students offering to help unpack the shirts.
“I was like, ‘This is the Gator spirit that I love,’” he said.
Many of the students helping Official had been playing lawn games at the student union or came from Turlington Plaza, where they received vouchers for free coffee from on-campus Starbucks stores.
The festivities, which took place on Feb. 25, were part of the first of two Gator Recharge Days at UF, scheduled to promote rest amid a continuous semester. More than 2,000 students across campus took part in outdoor and physically distanced events including rock-climbing, tie-dyeing, laser tag and yoga. They also designed custom face coverings, made bath bombs and potted bamboo plants.
Official said it felt like a campus-wide homecoming.
“I just feel like there’s this certain human nature kind of thing when I see you and you see me – and I can kind of tell you’re smiling, even behind the mask,” he said. “These events are a chance to explore campus because a lot of people really haven’t had the opportunity to do that in the pandemic.”
Official said he and his team passed out the T-shirts in under 30 minutes, and the coffee vouchers at the student union were gone almost immediately. Dr. James Tyger, senior director of Student Government at UF, added that the events’ popularity signaled how enthusiastic students were to safely see their peers offline.
“Having the ability to build connections is a key part of the student experience. It correlates not only to students’ mental health and well-being, but also to their ability to be successful in other aspects of their academic career,” Tyger said. “Seeing how excited our students were to participate in small, interactive things was just really refreshing.”
“All of the events and programs provided by our teams were well-received,” added Dr. Jack Causseaux, director of Student Activities and Involvement at UF. “It’s a testament to how students are excited to find ways to stay engaged and enjoy a variety of campus offerings.”
The second Recharge Day will feature student favorites – and some surprises
The second Recharge Day on Wednesday, March 24 will include virtual and in-person events from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tyger said the schedule was created to offer students with class that day chances to drop in to events they want to attend. Once finalized, the day’s full schedule will be available here.
“We have a lot of pieces in the works still,” Tyger said. “It’s challenged our team and the students we work with to think about not just duplicating the last one but keeping it exciting.”
The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Natural History will extend their hours, Causseaux said. Both museums are open to the public with COVID-19 protocols in place and free to students with Gator1 ID cards. Some student favorites – such as the coffee vouchers, lawn games at the student union and T-shirts – will return.
Dr. D’Andra Mull, vice president for student affairs at UF, led the development of Recharge Days. She said that, rather than serving as a substitute for a traditional weeklong spring break, the days were designed to promote daily wellness despite students’ busy schedules.
“We want these events to give students a chance to relax and rejuvenate – this semester is more like a marathon, not a sprint,” Mull said. “It was a joy to see so many students enjoying the Florida sunshine, safely engaging and meeting new friends.”
Trevor Pope, UF’s student body president and a second-year law student at the Levin College of Law, also had a key role in planning the days.
“Recharge Days are an opportunity for us to double down on our commitment to supporting the student experience,” Pope said. “It’s been a challenging semester, and we wanted to give students flexible ways to safely enjoy campus.”
“There’s no better way to recharge than to float down a beautiful river.”
Dr. Amanda Subalusky, an assistant professor in UF’s biology department and principal investigator of the Subalusky Lab, decided to use the first Recharge Day to venture beyond Gainesville. She, her lab’s manager and three students went to the Ichetucknee River, a spring-fed waterway about 40 miles north of UF’s campus, for a day of kayaking.
Paddling in crystal-clear water, the group consorted with softshell turtles and schools of gar among cypress trees draped in Spanish moss. But the highlight was seeing six manatees, Subalusky said.
“It was a definitely a bucket-list item for me,” she said. “Seeing these massive, peaceful animals checking us out just as much as we were checking them out was a remarkable experience.”
Still, stepping away from her work was a difficult choice.
“I do think this semester has been challenging because there’s this sense of being constantly busy and not having kind of a big enough window of a break that you can look forward to,” she said. “There was a real temptation for myself – and I imagine for the students as well – to use the day to catch up on work, but I thought it was really important to get outside in nature and do something that actually recharged us.”
At the end of the trip, Subalusky warned students about the “fallacy of catching up.”
“There’s this idea that if I just spend one more night working on this – or if I just work one more weekend – I’ll catch up,” she said. “But you’re always going to have things to do. So if you don’t make it a priority to schedule breaks, then you’ll just never take them. And it’s really easy to get burned out that way.”
Subalusky, who earned her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Yale University in 2016 and arrived at UF in late 2019, has done most of her teaching during the pandemic. She said supportive colleagues and engaged students have helped her handle the challenges of teaching in-person and remote students simultaneously.
“I’ve been so impressed with the undergraduate and graduate students that I’ve been interacting with over the last year and just how incredibly resilient and graceful they’ve been while dealing with challenge after challenge,” she said. “I find that really inspiring.”