Student clubs embrace virtual space to keep members engaged during stay-at-home order
By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis
As social distancing guidelines continue to have many of us living in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, never has it been more important to maintain a sense of connectedness to the outside world.
No one understands this better than the members of Lafayette’s student clubs and organizations. After the College made the switch to remote instruction in March, students eagerly sought and implemented creative virtual solutions that would allow them to remain involved with the campus community, despite not being able to meet face to face.
“A huge piece of the Lafayette experience is the connections that students develop with each other, with administration, with the local community,” says Vanessa Pearson, director of student involvement. “[When the campus closed] a week after spring break, it was overwhelming for students at first. The club members were used to meeting in person, and a lot of their activities were centered around physical connection. But now that they have adjusted to the remote learning environment, they are looking at how they can keep their clubs and organizations active, and keep members engaged virtually.”
Students have adjusted so well that Pearson says, in some respects, going virtual has created an even greater sense of connectedness among club members.
“They look forward to seeing each other, and a really neat feeling of community came about online, which you wouldn’t think would be there,” she says. “The ability for them to come together quickly, be adaptable, figure out how to do their activities in a virtual space, and heighten that sense of community and support has been impressive to see.”
For some student organizations and activities, the transition to an online-only platform was a seamless one. For instance, Lafayette eSports Club—which normally operates in a virtual space—was able to continue competing in its online gaming tournaments without a hitch. Recreation services found that its weekly on-campus group fitness classes—which are offered free to students, faculty, and staff—also particularly lend themselves to a virtual stage.
“Using Zoom was a natural place to offer these types of classes. The fitness industry already supports it,” says Karen Howell, associate director of recreation services. “Since we are using the same platform as we did before, IMLeagues, the class registration was easy to implement. We have numerous people interested in our Live Virtual Group Fit Classes, and our participation numbers for each class is higher than we expected. We have noticed many new students and employees register and participate that never had before.”
On the other hand, several clubs met various obstacles along the way to going virtual—but that didn’t stop them from running successful organizations. Thanks to their creative thinking, they were able to not only overcome those challenges, but also thrive in the face of adversity.
Every April, Pards Against Sexual Assault (PASA) holds numerous campus-wide events and activities in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). One of the most significant is Teal Tuesday, when students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to wear teal as a symbol of solidarity with sexual assault victims. Because they already had put a great deal of effort into the event prior to campus closure—and because they are truly passionate about their cause—PASA members put a cyber-spin on Teal Tuesday instead of canceling it altogether.
“Even though we are not together on campus, it is important to recognize and support survivors of sexual assault, for it still affects students—even remotely,” says Emma Piascik ’21, psychology major and PASA president. “Furthermore, it is still important that we educate our peers about sexual misconduct and continue to spread awareness about these issues.”
So, this year, PASA asked all members of the Lafayette community to take to Instagram on Teal Tuesday to upload teal-themed profile pictures and share photos of themselves wearing the color. The campaign garnered a significantly positive response, proving the idea to be not just a good one for the present, but a useful one for the future as well.
“We’ve truly learned the power and positive outcomes of utilizing our Instagram more consistently,” Piascik says. “It’s created a sense of connection among our student body more so than ever before. We will definitely be incorporating the use of social media into our social events. We also created a website, which we have been talking about for semesters. COVID-19 pushed us to launch it, finally.”
Similarly, Lafayette Activities Forum (LAF)—which hosts a variety of educational, recreational, cultural, and social events throughout the year—took on the task of bringing the campus life experience online.
“Many students look to LAF for campus-wide programs, and our events are meant for people to have fun,” says Samantha DeMarse ’20, psychology and religion & politics major, and LAF president. “This time has made our group really creative, as we had to think outside the box to engage and connect students as we would on campus. It’s really important to us to create events that students—and even families, faculty, and staff—actually want to go to.”
LAF’s solution: provide one new virtual entertainment program to the entire Lafayette community every Friday at 8:30 p.m. The group has already successfully held a bingo night, magic show, and trivia competition over the past several weeks, using online platforms like Zoom and Kahoot.
Other types of technology, like smartphone apps, also are becoming increasingly useful to student organizations—and opening doors to all-new ways for members to enjoy activities together.
“We’ve increased our usage of Strava, a social fitness network that tracks and shares exercises,” says Andrew Schmid ’20, mechanical engineering and economics major, and Running Club member. “Before the remote period, many of us followed each other on Strava, but rarely commented or gave kudos for activities since we could do those in person. [Now that we’re using Strava, we’re creating] fun challenges for people to do at home, such as running a path so that they spell their name [on the app’s map feature]. Alumni will have an easier time staying a part of Running Club as well. By breaking down the connection barriers online, I think it’s more likely that we will have virtual Running Club reunions, races, or meet-ups moving forward.”
If you’d like to learn more about all the different ways you can stay connected with Lafayette’s campus community, even while you’re at home, be sure to regularly check out the OurCampus platform and the College’s Calendar of Events for upcoming activities. Student involvement, Pearson adds, is also holding virtual office hours every Thursday at 3 p.m. for anyone who has questions about student clubs, organizations, and events.
“There are some really great ideas out there,” she says. “Students are getting more and more innovative, and it’s going to be fun to watch how student groups are going to continue to evolve and provide engaging activities for each other.”