Many student organizations and activities have changed the way they run this year, but students will be happy to see that most of these staples of college life are still alive and well.
Despite guidelines like social distancing and limited gatherings making meetings and events difficult, the Office of Student Activities, University Program Council (UPC) and various organizations throughout campus have utilized different means of promoting themselves– setting up tables outside the Union, as tabling inside is prohibited this year– or meeting in smaller groups and using Zoom for those who can’t attend.
“There are a lot of student organizations and other activities being put on by departments or colleges and other entities that are … trying to find a way,” Matilyn Kerr, the Hobo Day Committee advisor and program advisor for university traditions said. She also helped prepare a plan for what activities and organizations would look like this fall.
To help facilitate events and meetings on campus during the pandemic, the JacksRBack team has established new protocols on their website. These include providing maximum capacities for spaces like Jack’s Place and the Volstorff Ballroom in the Union, giving priority to certain groups over others and requiring management plans for events exceeding the maximum capacity and a list of attendees, among others.
For new students who wish to get involved with student organizations but are unsure how due to new guidelines, Assistant Director of Student Activities Kate Stock says there are a few ways to make connections through the Office of Student Activities.
“Jacks Club Hub, we’re really trying to push students there, and student activities’ social media,” she said. Students can also contact her office for more information.
According to Kerr, there were some challenges in planning for student organizations this year, primarily the uncertainty of what to expect. Discussions about these changes began in March, long before anyone could know exactly what the fall semester would bring.
“Look at how much changed between March and August,” she said. “There was no way at that time we could have made a plan, even March that would have been the same one we used three weeks later at the beginning of April.”
Another issue was finding alternatives for organizations that deal heavily with community service, volunteering and overall involvement with the Brookings community. Kerr said that in the case of Hobo Day, many activities that usually take place during the week had to be completely redesigned.
These obstacles did not slow down the planning team, however, and new events were soon created to fill the gaps left by those that were no longer possible with the new safety precautions. Stock said that the new guidelines have opened up many new possibilities.
“We wanted to focus on what we can do instead of what we cannot,” Stock said.
Some of these new events, mostly sponsored by UPC, include more outdoor activities like an upcoming drive-in movie in Lot 159, music and lectures, comedians, outdoor movies and virtual games. Stock added that they are looking to add more indoor events in the future if possible.
Student organizations have also adapted to the changes implemented. Of the 250 current organizations, about 85 signed up as part of the virtual organization fair that occurred earlier in August, replacing the typical event held inside the Union during the first week of the fall semester.
Both Kerr and Stock are grateful to students and faculty for their “grace and patience” during this time, and believe that it’s up to the students to decide whether they want to participate in any events taking place.
“Taking time to own your college experience is important,” Stock said.
Students who would like to branch out are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and find others on campus who share their interests and beliefs.
“I think we all have a bit of ownership in this to really provide that experience too,” Kerr said. “ultimately, those students, it’s up to them to try.”