What Holds Clubs Together as the Pandemic Drags on?

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Anna Fisher – News Editor

Atop academics, work, and trying to preserve mental health, students in clubs are struggling to maintain their communities. How can clubs flourish when everything is on Zoom? However, a few student organizations are soldiering through with different strategies.

“I know it’s really hard to be motivated right now, because there have been so many traumatic events that might have happened in everyone’s lives right now,” said Jinkle Modi, President of the South Asian Student Association (SASA).

“We have all been trying to find ways to attract people and an audience through a virtual background which is obviously hard right now,” Modi said. “People are very hesitant to join Zoom meetings because it gets awkward.”

“People are shy,” said Maddie Kim, secretary of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). But she has seen an advantage to Zoom, “I think the chat function has encouraged people to ask more questions.”

“We need underclassmen to survive,” said Inshal Haque, the Vice President of BFashion who believes newer students are waiting for COVID to end to join clubs. “Think about half the population of BU coming in not even caring about the clubs right now.”

Since recruitment and active membership are crucial for the continued existence of clubs, the Office of Student Activities sponsored two virtual Eagle Stop fairs this year.

Results varied.

“No one wants to hop Zooms in Eagle Stop,” Haque asserted, “Last semester, we had nothing to do. Zero people were coming to our Eagle Stop, and there was no real way to advertise.”

When spring arrived, BFashion tried different methods. “This second semester we got more of an audience because we were actively trying to recruit people from our own marketing strategies,” said Haque, citing social media and word of mouth.

AMSA had more success with Eagle Stop.

“Fall semester we got a decent amount of people. Spring semester I think we got only one or two,” said Kim, “AMSA is one of the larger clubs on campus and I think most people know about it, so the people who want to join are going to join whether it’s in-person or virtual.”

In a preprofessional group, often what keeps the club together is its utility for a student’s career.

“The process to get into medical school and apply is very long and very, very involved, and very complex, and there’s so many different parts,” said Kim, citing coursework, activities, and the need to stand out as a medical candidate. She believes students can be daunted by the expectations and that AMSA serves as a guide, “What we really do is try to break down the process and clarify it to make it a lot more understandable and doable.”

For social groups, numbers and fellowship from before the pandemic can help carry the club.

We’ve had some loyal members who come to all of our GBMs [General Body Meetings]. We also have members who come once in a while and say hi, which is completely fine,” said Modi. “We’re all going through a pandemic right now and it is ok if no one came to your one GBM.”

SASA has around 70 active members, as does AMSA. This helps contribute to their success. But what about a new social club that isn’t as big?

BFashion was formed in the wake of the pandemic. Aside from the board, they have around ten active members. Because of this, Haque works with his board to stay creative.

“Since we can’t do a workshop, we’re doing one meeting a month,” Haque said, “We want good presentations and we want people to attend them, so we’re not going to start putting together random presentations just so we have filler.”

Modi has also seen the pandemic as an opportunity to be creative with meetings. “There is just this disconnect because of Zoom. So, this semester we switched gears and picked one topic: mental health.”

Though some clubs have worked on tangible projects, the virtual dominates.

“No one wants to change COVID rules right now,” Haque said. “We have a donation bin at BU. That’s still being set up by Katie [Buell, Assistant Director for Activities and Organizations]. We sent everything to Katie. She just has to do it and give us a location.”  But this will likely be on hold for a while.

Similarly, AMSA’s biggest event of the year is usually their spring 5K race, a fundraiser for Homecare Physicians, an organization that brings medical assistance to the homebound.

“A lot of us have shadowed with those doctors and we see where the benefits go from the money that we raise. So, this year, we’re doing a virtual 5K,” said Kim.

A main incentive for participants usually involves getting a t-shirt with registration. But this presents a challenge with the restrictions, Kim shared.

“Student Activities said that there can be absolutely nothing on campus, not even t-shirt pickup, so we’re trying to work with a local business to see if they can distribute the shirts or at least hold on to them for us and be a pickup center.”

“I work in a COVID unit. I see the impact it has on the patients all the time, so I definitely understand why it’s better to be safe than sorry. It can just get frustrating when we’re trying to have our events.”

For Modi, the key to the present is working for balance. “Being positive and trying to plan ahead and make sure that you’re balancing your social life and your academic life can really help you stay focused right now – until we get on campus and then it’s a whole different thing.”

The pandemic will end, and Haque wants BFashion to be ready. That promise of return is what has helped him hang on to hope.

“Why would you give up now when IRL could be just around the corner?”