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Clubbing with COVID: How Student Orgs have Adapted to the Pandemic

By Grace White

It has been over a year since the pandemic started, and a lot has changed, as we all know. Between classes, living situations, and even simple things like eating on campus, we are asked to adapt all of the time, to the point that it is almost second nature. Adapting has become fairly easy for us. However, we, as individuals, aren’t the only ones who have needed to adapt. Many people look forward to engaging in groups and organizations while in school. These clubs have had to face a lot of issues and work through a lot, which I can personally attest to, both through watching others face these difficulties and approaching them myself.

I am co-president of the group Pen Pals here on campus, alongside the amazing Natalie Dykhuis ’23. Our club, in the past, has consisted of writing letters in the form of paper packets back and forth with local high school students that are possible first generation college students. At the end of a normal year, these students would come and have a group tour around campus, along with partaking in other activities with their SNC penpal. As you can probably imagine, these events didn’t exactly work out in the pandemic. However, we were able to adapt, and amazing things have come of it. Natalie and I began the long transition into making everything online, creating Google Docs for each individual penpal group, learning how to make that work with deadlines, and consistently asking for feedback, as we weren’t sure how our adjustments were being received. In addition to this, Natalie came up with the plan to create a slideshow and video for our high school penpals, which will sit in place of the campus visit.

Some of these adjustments certainly weren’t ideal. We would certainly like to welcome our high school friends onto campus, but the online options were better than the alternative (which was just having nothing at all). Other adjustments, while being new, brought about amazing things. As our organization is using Google Docs, pen pals can write more frequently, if they want, which means that many of the groups have been writing back and forth several times a week, which is amazing to see. This allows for better bonding, which also enables us to be alerted of certain issues that the high school students possess. At one point, we learned that one of our high school students lacked certain gear that they needed, but we were able to meet this need, with lots of help from the SNC community. This was due to the fact that this new method of communication made such alerts easier to respond to. Thus, even though the adaptation has been hard, some of the methods we have developed are both really helpful now and may continue to be helpful in the future.

Other clubs, like Circle K, another service organization, have also needed to adjust. Talking with President Olivia Groenewold ’23 made this clear. They began planning their adjustments over the summer, meeting as an executive board fairly often. For a club that really aims to help people connect with one another through service and helping the community while forming strong friendships, the idea of meeting their goals during a pandemic was a bit overwhelming. As in-person meetings were no longer an option, they began working with technology, using things like Zoom meetings to stay connected. They were able to use technology to both strengthen their connection with one another and to serve, hosting group activities like “Among Us” matches and offering service events like Freerice and card making. Now that it is spring, the club has also begun to offer some outside and socially distanced service, like garbage pick-up, finding more safe ways to serve.

The club also used this time to foster relationships with Circle K chapters from different schools, allowing them to gain more ideas and grow while helping other organizations thrive. Thus, we can see that, while the time off and the time planning for a completely new circumstance was hard, it allowed them to build a stronger foundation that they can build and lean on in the future. When Olivia says that “COVID has certainly brought challenges for Circle K, but I think it has forced the organization to become stronger,” I think that she is certainly right. While adjusting is hard, it can also help unite people and bring about new opportunities that we were blind to before.

Oxfam America has also faced many new challenges, according to Secretary and Social Media Coordinator Abigail Hejmanowski, who stated that “COVID-19 has interrupted every level of club operations, from general meetings to annual events.” The social justice club, which highlights the issues of poverty, hunger, and injustice and tries to help the people suffering from these issues and many through awareness and action, moved everything online. This included things from general meetings and film screenings to their popular, and powerful, Womxn, Waffles, and Wisdom event. As can be expected with moving large events online, ones that often involve people that aren’t in the club, there were some learning curves, but, as someone who went to some of these events as a non-member, I can attest that they have adjusted very well.

The adjustments were only successful because of the students who worked so hard to make them happen. The Oxfam executive board did a lot of work to make things happen, but Abigail also wanted to highlight another group that really helped to make this year successful, despite all of the challenges: the Emerging Leaders. Oxfam brings on several Emerging Leaders every year, students that sign up for this program in order to hone their personal leadership skills under the guidance of club leaders, and they are asked to lead an event or program within the club. These students were given an extra hard job this year due to all of the new restrictions and requirements that were added on top of an already not-so-easy process. That being said, the students did wonderfully, according to Abigail: “They did an all-around fantastic job, though; I was impressed with their dedication and ability to roll with the punches when even the more established members didn’t know what to do next.” Oxfam had to make many changes as a club, but, due to the work that all of these individuals put in—e-board members, emerging leaders, general members—they were able to thrive.

  This year has been far from an easy one. We have all needed to change, grow, and adapt in order to make things work. As individuals, we have done a good job. And, as individuals united in a common goal, we have also succeeded. This year could have destroyed many clubs. It could have put an end to socializing, serving, and all of the other things we lean on our student organizations for. But, instead, we grew and adapted. We built more for our clubs, creating while also maintaining as much tradition as we could. We learned to integrate technology into the things we already loved about our orgs, and we learned to think creatively. COVID could have been the end for so much, but it instead provided us with a new beginning, one that we all took full advantage of. It will be exciting to see what happens with our organizations when everything “returns to normal”; I have no doubt that we will all emerge stronger than ever before.

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