Jake Schell (Loyola Senior)
Fully vaccinated and largely in-person, the Loyola campus appears to be coming back to life. But for the president of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE), the cherished community he left behind in March 2020 hasn’t returned. In fact, he’s never felt more disconnected from it.
A senior from Des Moines, IA, Aaron Coffey studies Accounting and Information Systems. Since starting college in 2018, he’s been heavily involved in the Interfraternity Council, his hall council, the honors program, and multiple theater productions. He is also an involved member of his fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, where he served as recruitment chair. In Spring 2021, he assumed the role of chapter president.
Coffey has never been a passive student at Loyola, but the circumstances of COVID-19 have come to define his presidency. Even back in-person, the campus culture that attracted him to Loyola in the first place is struggling to make a comeback. Now, with new students longing for a sense of community, Coffey is ready to get to work.
RogersEdge Reporter met with Aaron Coffey to discuss the lasting effects of COVID-19 at Loyola, the importance of campus community, and a necessary call to action.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Jake Schell is a member of TKE.
Jake Schell: You’re involved in a lot of stuff on campus. How does campus life now differ from campus life before the pandemic?
Aaron Coffey: Well, I like face to face interaction. I like going to campus. I think it creates a sense of community. Now it’s like, “Oh, go to this philanthropy event that’s online.” Nobody has the same motivation or drive to do what we used to do. It [TKE] is a social fraternity. It’s in the name — it’s being social, being active, and having a presence on campus. When you take that aspect out, it’s difficult to get people involved and focused on building the fraternity and hosting philanthropy events.
JS: With all that in mind, do you think you’re getting the same college experience at Loyola as students at other colleges?
AC: Most of my friends go to Iowa State. Some of their classes were moved online, but their activities were still allowed to continue in person. We live in Chicago and the rules are a lot different, of course, but I think activities are what make a campus a campus. They foster a sense of belonging, and I feel like that sense of belonging and passion at Loyola has faded. The on-campus presence is coming back, but it’s definitely going to take some rebuilding to get to where it used to be.
JS: What are some things that you think would rebuild that sense of community?
AC: A lot of the kids that are coming into Loyola, these new freshmen and new sophomores, they’ve been online for years. They’ve graduated in an online environment. A lot of them entered Loyola in an online environment. I mean, I went from being a sophomore to a senior. It’s a very large gap. I feel like encouraging people to get involved in these organizations and offering them a space on campus will help. I get COVID precautions, those are important and hard to work around, but I feel like there are other solutions.
JS: Can you tell me about that transition between being a sophomore and being a senior?
AC: It was strange! You’re a sophomore, you live in a dorm, you’re on a meal plan, and then all of a sudden you’re a senior who’s getting ready to graduate and looking for full-time job offers. So much changes junior year. You’re an upperclassman finally, you’re out of the dorms, you have a good group of friends, you’re excited. You know your place at Loyola. Imagine hitting that point and then everything you know just stops. Now you’re a senior and you’re one of the only classes to be involved in your organization pre-COVID. One of the only people to know Loyola pre-COVID!
JS: A lot of students are experiencing their first semester on a college campus ever. What advice do you have for them?
AC: It’s all about connection, and it’s a lot more difficult now. I would emphasize to people that they need to focus on the community aspect. And you have to make a conscious effort to do so. When that happens, and I already see it going there, I think you’ll get a very strong love for Loyola. A love for the campus. And people will be connected. That’s what I’d like to see changed — creating that sense of community. And if that’s what we really need, then we have to work for it.
Loyola students are encouraged to login to LUCommunity for information about on-campus organizations: https://luc.campuslabs.com/engage/.