Students find new ways to virtually socialize during pandemic

While in-person events are not allowed during the fall semester, student organizations find new ways to engage students as they transition to online events. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

From general body meetings to virtual dance practices, clubs and organizations are working toward finding new ways to engage and connect with students virtually despite the challenges set by COVID-19.

With in-person meetings not being allowed for the fall semester, student organizations have been challenged with the task of continuing operations while transitioning their traditional in-person events to virtual platforms.

“The most important thing for us is expression and interaction with others. In that way, COVID had totally changed our plans for fall 2020,” sophomore and President of USF’s Dance Club Letícia Rabelo said.

Besides getting used to new ways of hosting meetings, students had to be creative in coming up with ways to overcome the challenges set by COVID-19. 

“The first step we took was to gather the members and have a fair conversation about our limitations and how we would overcome them,” Rabelo said.. “Some very good ideas started to pop up, and even faster than we expected, we had new fall 2020 plans, now on a 100 percent online setting.” 

From ballet to contemporary/jazz classes, the Dance Club at USF has been uniting students over Microsoft Teams through the art of dance. The classes last about an hour and consist of classic dance moves as well as stretching.

Dance Club was not the only club concerned about the shift. Senior Randy Vigiano, the president of Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), said he expected the transition to be tough, but found it easier and more productive than anticipated. 

“I really thought not being able to participate in events in person would be a setback, but Israel [Jimenez], our volunteering committee captain, has done a great job finding events and gathering volunteers,” Vigiano said.

Junior Rayna Kanes, president of both the Improv and Astronomy clubs on campus, initially struggled more with the adjustment than Vigiano. 

“As a club leader, it has been a bit shaky getting my footing and adjusting to the virtual format,” she said. “There’s been a lot of pressure to keep the clubs going as strong as they were before.”

Normally, improv members would be working to utilize stage space as well as learning to play off of one another, but she said her main goal now is to maintain the relationships among members, so she organized virtual improv events to keep up member interaction. 

“We’ve decided to play fast and loose with the curriculum and focus more on just building a sense of community when we cannot be together,” Kanes said.

 Senior Krista Cummings, president of the Judy Genshaft Honors College Student Council (JGHCSC), has been making the online transition with ease.

“We are doing all the same things that you’d see in person, just online,” she said.

For Cummings, the most important thing was maintaining the quality of events that the club participates in and hosts. The Honors Council continued its in-person tradition of Brain Bowl over Zoom on Sept. 23.

“We also have [virtual] events on the horizon, such as escape rooms and a murder mystery party,” Cummings said. The dates for these events are still undetermined. 

However, athletic and active clubs on campus have struggled to find their stride. Student leaders have gotten particularly inventive when it comes to meeting and practicing.

Senior Skyler Cripps, vice president of the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee club, was discouraged to find that they were not allowed to practice in person. To combat this, the team holds virtual Zoom workouts on Mondays. 

“One of our members is a group fitness instructor for the Rec and she puts together a 40-minute workout for us.” 

They also use Snapchat to keep each other accountable.

“Whenever we work out independently, we take a picture or selfie and send it to the [Snapchat] group,” Cripps said. 

Clubs and other student organizations aren’t the only ones who have had to adjust to this virtual lifestyle. Even though they’re all residing on-campus, students living in the dorms are also having to make an adjustment to virtual ways of socializing.

Disheartened by the new dismal reality of dorm life, resident assistants (RAs) have taken to Zoom to bring some life back in. Students are able to socialize through programs like Bulls in the Cloud, which offers a Microsoft Teams space for meeting. In some residence halls, RAs are holding weekly virtual chats so residents are able to interact and not feel holed up in their dorms.

“My RA does weekly virtual check-in meetings and one night invited us to play pingpong,” freshman Deziree Price said. “We have a pingpong table in our pod, and ever since playing the first night we gather to play and converse frequently.” 

In other dorms, like the third floor of Beacon Hall, RAs are trying to develop online get-togethers.

“We are working to create virtual opportunities for students to get to know each other, like virtual game nights,” RA Meghana Nelluri said. 

For freshmen, this is the only college dorm experience they have had, and it is not at all what they expected. 

“It’s very different in the fact that I was looking forward to inviting my friends over to my dorm to meet my roommate, but that’s not an option now,” freshman Margaret Szczukowski said.

Szczukowski said that she talks to friends and family in her hometown, and meets people in common areas to socialize while abiding by campus rules.

Although COVID-19 placed constraints on how students interact with each other, Rabelo said her club still found ways to connect and keep their spirits up.

“We lost the possibility of going to a dance class together, but we haven’t lost the way of dancing together,” Rabelo said. “And that is what we had been trying to do. We keep dancing, so these hard times become easier.”