What will clubs and events look like this semester?

A conversation with the heads of USG

Shreyas Banerjee, A&E Editor

This semester will be an odd one for many reasons, but the thing that may stand out the most is the change in campus life. With half of Case Western Reserve University students not living on campus anymore and everyone theoretically following socially distant guidelines, interactions will be different. This calls into question: how will clubs and events operate in this new landscape? The very basis of what clubs have been doing since time immemorial in order to recruit new members, meet up and hold events, has become completely shifted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In order to clarify how clubs are adapting to the challenging situation ahead of us all, I had a conversation with the new president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and fourth-year student Hunter Stecko, and the new USG VP of Finance and third-year student Cooper Reif, as USG is one of the major umbrella organizations on campus with many clubs working underneath them.

“I honestly am truly amazed by the creativity of some of the club officers and some of the clubs we have under our purview. Already I’ve been able to see some really unique ideas that club officers have come up with,” Stecko said when discussing how clubs are reorganizing themselves during these times. “They are coming up with really creative ways of self-fulfilling their critical mission and I think building off that is USG’s biggest role, along with finding out from the club leaders what works and make the resources available in order to help their plans a reality.”

One of those resources that USG is working on is giving clubs guidelines and help to hold new types of events, working with the Office of Student Activities and Leadership. Event safety guidelines have gone out to many clubs, but one of the things USG is actively working towards is integrating digital resources into the club space.

Stecko elaborated, “One thing we’ve been looking at is the different CampusGroups features that we can use and make available to students in order to host certain events. Whether that is expanding the ability of clubs to make web pages in order to host events virtually in that manner or expanding resources so that Zoom can be used in a more creative manner, we are looking at different ways.” 

But an issue arises with the sheer diversity of clubs at CWRU. Stecko remarked: “The hard part is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in terms of how clubs can hold events, because obviously the way CWRU Climbing Club is going to host is going to look significantly different than an event hosted by the Cooking Club or KASA [The Korean American Student Association].”

By looking at how USG can make those digital resources available, they plan on making a second guide after the semester starts with some ideas for clubs to utilize in order to hold events effectively in a digital space.

“We’ve got to make gnocchi with the dough we’ve got,” Stecko said.

Smaller clubs with less than 15 people will still be allowed to meet in-person, assuming all safety protocols are being followed and even larger groups will be allowed to meet if they have the space and the ability to engage in social distancing and mask-wearing.

When asked if it was equitable for clubs to have in-person events when many students will not be able to participate while still paying for the Student Activities Fee in their tuition, Stecko responded that “USG is not making any recommendations in terms of whether or not [clubs] should have in-person or remote meetings… If a club is made of mostly seniors and has recruited freshmen, we’re not going to mandate that you have to meet over Zoom if the individuals that are part of your club are on or near campus.”

However, Stecko did make sure to say that it would be in a club’s best interests to hold events and meetings virtually: “We do want to make sure club officers are using the methodology that will be most inclusive for the individuals their clubs are working for.” 

“Equal access is one of the things we are most interested in. To be honest with you, our club officers are spread out over all four academic years,” he continued. “What we are going to find is that the vast majority of club officers are going to have an incentive to be hosting things in an inclusive manner anyways. This is going to be one of the biggest challenges—making sure there is equal access.”

For USG at least, funding will not be decreased for clubs that already had money earmarked for this semester, even if their costs are going way down.

“I think a lot of the things clubs are spending money on [have] changed and USG is trying to open up the door to re-allocations [of funding]. Nobody planned for these circumstances when they applied for their mass funding.” Reif said, before elaborating, “We don’t plan on touching those [mass-funding] numbers … I don’t want to take money away unprovoked … With rolling-funding (which is allocated on an as-needed basis) we can facilitate club needs in these challenges. In-person events are theoretically possible following the guidelines we’ve been given while still having a virtual aspect that can be given to those not on campus, and things will cost more when you take into account for social distancing.”

Reif also went on to say that club expenses are going to be different this year, with some clubs investing more in future years with large capital purchases, such as the Archery Club, which would usually use money for tournaments, but now plan on upgrading their practice room.

“Many clubs are planning on doing more virtual events because their members are not in the Cleveland area and that takes a certain amount of capital purchases, such as tripods for video streaming, and things of that nature. Money that would’ve gone towards a conference is now going towards virtual meetings and cleaning supplies.”

When asked how freshmen should get involved in clubs when meeting people organically will be much harder, Stecko focused on CampusGroups.

“This is the thing we’ve spent the most time on. The Students Activities Fair is a big first gateway, and the second thing is really making sure that every single club’s CampusGroups page is completely up to date. That includes the club mission, that includes club officers, members, etc. What we are really hoping for is that not only will students have the opportunity to meet and interface with members of clubs at the Activities Fair but also the opportunity to browse and peruse the clubs on CampusGroups at any time they want, with the contact info of club officers being up-to-date.”

The Student Activities Fair this year will be working very differently and will be entirely on CampusGroups. In a regular Activities Fair, clubs usually have a table to talk about what they do, with students walking from table to table. This year, there will be a splash page with information about the clubs splayed out, with the option for club officers to be available for a live chat or a Zoom call that students can jump into on their club page.

“We’re really excited about this; it’s definitely new and an interesting way to potentially have more sorts of engagement with clubs later into the year, even when we have regular in-person operations,” Stecko said.

“It’s a module just for virtual fairs on CampusGroups … It’s very much custom-built for what we want to use it for so we’re very excited to use this software for the first time,” Reif added. “From a club standpoint, students can just click ‘I’m interested in this club’ and after the fair, clubs get a list of every student interested in them rather than having to copy down each name and CaseID individually in order to contact students.”

The conversation about events and clubs may be different in a month or two, depending on how effective CWRU’s efforts are to mitigate virus spread, but until then, students have the Students Activities Fair to look forward to this Sunday, August 23 from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM via CampusGroups, which may act as a model for how many future events are also run. You can also look forward to coverage on the myriad of digital events coming up here at The Observer.