After the pandemic resulted in an academic year of online learning and a lack of lively campus life, student organization leaders are finalizing plans to promote as much in-person activity as possible when students return to campus in the fall.
Dean of Students Danielle McDonald said the fall semester will share many similarities to the fall 2019 semester since several of USF’s in-person activities, such as the Week of Welcome and the Student Organization Fair, will be returning without any mitigation requirements.
The Marshall Student Center (MSC) has stated on the USF website that it started accepting event reservations from student organizations for the summer sessions June 1. It will be accepting reservations for the fall starting July 1 at 10 a.m.
All rooms inside the MSC can be reserved by student organizations and there are no COVID-19 capacity restrictions being enforced, according to its website. McDonald also said student organizations will be given the opportunity to hold meetings in person without having to socially distance and wear face coverings.
The food and beverage guidelines for events in the MSC have not been decided on by the university yet. Those planning on reserving a room at the MSC must complete a Food Release form, according to the MSC Event Planning Team.
Michael Chase, an animal biology and environmental science and policy major, and the president of the Marine Biology club, is one of many club leaders who are eager to get back to campus to host in-person meetings again.
“The Marine Biology club and I are extremely excited to be able to plan many of the in-person events that we did not get to last year. Our officer team is meeting every other week over the summer before meetings restart in order to properly plan and prepare for in-person meetings and events,” said Chase.
The full transition from in-person meetings to meetings hosted solely online made it hard to recreate the club’s usual friendly environment, according to Chase.
He said the club would host movie nights and graduate student Q&A nights to increase engagement.
“Our officer team and returning members take great pride in making our club and meetings as friendly and as inviting as possible. Last year with everything being online, it was difficult to replicate the same type of atmosphere as in-person meetings do,” he said.
Even though online meetings were difficult at times, Chase said the Marine Biology club will continue to use the virtual component of its meetings in order to make the club more inclusive to students from other campuses.
“With USF consolidating, we want to be able to reach out to as many students as possible, so even when in-person meetings are at the Tampa campus, we will be hosting students from the St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses virtually via Zoom to allow them to participate in meetings as much as possible,” he said.
Alexa Hilston, a junior majoring in elementary education and president of USF’s iteration of the magazine Her Campus, found the strictly online meetings created a sense of disconnect among the magazine’s team.
“One of the hardest things our team faced was not being able to see each other in person. A lot of the focus of Her Campus is bonding and creating content, so it was harder to create content when we couldn’t meet in person,” she said.
Hilston is highly anticipating the upcoming fall semester as she is planning on returning to in-person meetings for the first time in months.
“As we return, we are mostly hoping to go back to in-person meetings,” she said. “With the in-person meetings, we still will strongly encourage our team members to wear their masks and to get vaccinated if they plan on attending.”
USF’s multicultural student organizations are known for their in-person events, so clubs such as the Brazilian Student Association (BRASA) at USF are preparing to return to their exciting gatherings.
BRASA at USF currently consists of over 300 students, and one of its most effective ways to connect this large community is through in-person meetings and events, according to BRASA President Mariana Yukari.
“Pre-COVID-19 we would have weekly in-person meetings and many events. We had many social events that would join almost all the Brazilian community, such as our barbecues and parties with Brazilian music,” said Yukari.
“During COVID-19, our meetings would happen every other week through Microsoft Teams. We had virtual club events but not as many in-person events.”
With the upcoming fall semester approaching, Yukari said she is motivated to return to campus and conduct in-person meetings and events with a COVID-19-friendly plan.
“BRASA is planning on doing in-person meetings every week at MSC, as we usually did in the past,” said Yukari.
Emily Rodriguez, first-year graduate student and president of USF’s Dominican American Student Association (DASA), said the online general business meetings (GBMs) affected the quality of the organization’s energy.
“DASA’s GBMs became virtual, with less attendance. Effort and enthusiasm were plenty, but virtual meetings weren’t entirely the same energy compared to in-person GBMs on campus,” said Rodriguez.
Even when students were separated from each other, Rodriguez said the new virtual aspect of DASA allowed them to work with other universities such as Baruch College, Harvard University, the City College of New York and UF for the Dominican American Independence Day.
During the virtual event held in February, DASA and other universities engaged in discussions regarding harmful stereotypes and racism the Dominican American community faces. Rodriguez said they focused on establishing a safe atmosphere in which everyone could share their hopes and goals for their community.
“It was a fantastic experience to have a collaboration with so many Dominican American students around the U.S. and being able to connect on so many levels,” said Rodriguez. “I look forward to doing another collaboration or having members from these universities visit our campus and attend our events virtually in the upcoming semesters.”
USF’s Judy Genshaft Honors College Student Council (JGHCSC) typically hosts a wide range of events during the academic school year. However, this past year, these events did not happen due to COVID-19.
Shalini Subramanian, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, served as the volunteer committee co-chair of the JGHCSC this past academic year and will be the president of the club in the fall.
Like most other student organizations, Subramanian said the JGHCSC held all its meetings and events virtually, which made for a challenge at times when trying to establish a fun environment.
Subramanian and the rest of the JGHCSC plan to return to their active atmosphere in the fall.
“When possible, we hope to hold events in outdoor spaces, and we will encourage masking to help protect ourselves and others,” said Subramanian.
As students return to campus, the class of 2024 will be experiencing in-person club meetings and events for the first time after a year of social distancing and online learning.
Morgan Jones, an integrated public relations and advertising major, ended up joining two clubs this past academic year. However, she did not feel as though she was truly a part of the USF community.
“While it was helpful being online with the two club meetings on the same days, I feel as though I wasn’t as involved as I wanted to be and didn’t make as many strong connections online,” said Jones. “So, I am excited to attend club meetings in person and start attending networking events.”
Architecture major Omar Ash ended up not joining any clubs last school year as he did not want to join a club that would only be online.
“I honestly wasn’t interested in joining clubs because they were all being conducted online. I am definitely planning on joining clubs centered on music and songwriting when I arrive at campus in the fall to get the full in-person experience,” said Ash.
While excited for campus events and operations to return to normal, some students like Julia Devoe, majoring in language, speech and hearing science, are concerned about a potential rise in COVID-19 cases as students return to campus.
“The risk of another COVID-19 outbreak worries me the most along with the thought of a lot of people getting sick in general because we have all been isolated and wearing masks for so long,” she said.
Club leader Hilston has also expressed her concerns about returning to campus, but said she is working hard to make sure students can return to campus and club life in the safest way that makes students feel the most comfortable.
“The biggest concern is obviously keeping everyone healthy and safe. Yes, people are getting vaccinated, but COVID-19 is still a concern,” said Hilston. “We want to make sure everyone stays healthy and avoids getting sick because that’s priority No. 1.”