Clubs and organizations adapt to virtual reality

By Jordan Costa '21
Aerial quad stylized

I think it’s more important than it’s ever been to get students together to have these social experiences. We’re trying  to take that virtual space and make it social.

College is much more than just going to class. The social and emotional well being of a student can be fulfilled by staying involved and connecting with peers. Aside from projects and papers, college offers hands on and experiential learning to students to further extend their involvement outside of the classroom. The Office of Student Development works tirelessly to keep the campus community engaged. Campus tours highlight the clubs and organizations available, along with the suggestion that students can start their own club if they don’t see one they like.

“I think it’s more important than it’s ever been to get students together to have these social experiences,” said Nathan Emery, Fitchburg State’s Coordinator of Programs, Clubs and Organizations. “We’re trying to take that virtual space and make it social.”

Emery’s office keeps all board members up to date on what they can or cannot do during these challenging times, where early fall is typically the height of recruitment and kickstarting many of these programs.

Keeping students involved is crucial at any given time, but now more than ever. This format of online or hybrid is new for many students and faculty, so having some kind of social outlet is comforting to students whose normal is looking different here on campus. Emery said research has shown that students who are involved in extracurricular activities have better success in their academic pursuits, and are more likely to graduate on time. Not only do these clubs provide more structure to students, but something to look forward to that they enjoy.

“Everyone’s still in a testing phase about what works,” said Emery, noting that colleges and universities across the country are trying to adapt to a new way of operating clubs and organizations.

Kristen Laquidara, president of Fitchburg State’s Dance Club, has experienced first hand the challenges faced by COVID-19. Not only as a dancer but as a leadership role in the club, Laquidara has had to make difficult decisions and many adjustments to ensure some type of season would occur even if it looked a little different.

“This semester, since in-person classes cannot happen along with our winter showcase, we have leaned on our dance teachers to step up to transform their class into a virtual format this semester,” Laquidara said. “These classes are open to any and all dance club members as well as our dance club alumni. There will be no auditions held as these classes are solely just to keep our members dancing, work on our technique/flexibility, and just to have some fun while releasing all the stress added during this unpredictable semester.”

Not only was making the call to hold classes virtual a tough transition but finding new ways to promote the club to recruit new members meant the e-board had to get creative.

“To draw the attention of prospective new dance club members, we had to advertise on social media - a lot,” Laquidara said. “Our public relations officer, Jumily Bourommavong, worked really hard on gathering every dance club photo she could find from our old Facebook group pages and shared them all on our main public Facebook page to advertise just how long Dance Club has been thriving at Fitchburg State and how we will never stop growing. Social media has been huge for us this year and even without having an in-person Rock the Block, we were still able to add 13 (and counting), new members, just from a virtual rock the block. We get new members daily added through Falconnect, but it has been harder this semester for sure from not having our typical in-person auditions to advertise as our weekly classes are what the club is all about, leading up to the annual showcase at the end of each semester.”

With the many restrictions in place, the university’s annual “Rock the Block” had to be moved to a remote setting. Many clubs struggled where that is a great opportunity to recruit and really reach out to the student community who walks around the quad. Seeing faces, having conversations, and having an email sign up sheet is typically how students can get a good sense of what the club is like.

Although it was not the same, the virtual version of this event still had similar objectives, to meet and be available for students if necessary. With social media being such a central part of students’ lives, these clubs and organizations can take full advantage of the platforms to promote and send out messages easily even though it was not exactly the same kind of interactions face facing spread out on the quad.

Jalin Paulino Diaz, president of the Latin American Student Organization, stressed that although they are accommodating certain things to make their club run, it is certainly challenging.

“Thanks to professors and a lot of posting we were able to recruit a few people,” Diaz said. However, without the traditional Rock the Block recruitment event, she said the numbers were a lot smaller. “It's also harder to come up with ways to entertain people from a distance,” Diaz said.

Student Government Association President Kerry McManus also described many challenges to keep students involved. Like many other organizations, SGA has struggled to recruit new members virtually, but she said the organization plans to keep students involved.

“We have a small organization currently and our structure encourages that we have small committees of our members who are assigned specific topics, tasks, or other such breakdowns,” McManus said. “This is something that can be in-person as these committees are very small. This is a nice sense of ‘normal’ for the organization to still be in person at times in a safe and socially distant way.”

Staying present and available for students to get a hold of is crucial for SGA, she said. McManus stressed the importance of being readily accessible for students who may have questions and ultimately keeping everyone in the know and connected.

“One of our biggest priorities is remaining accessible to the student body as the governing organization of the students,” McManus said. “We have been pushing out information for general meetings and hosting virtual office hours at times that members are accessible to the student body for questions, comments, or concerns. Additionally, we have been putting a lot of information online via Falconnect or social media while also planning some virtual panels and events to remain visible and accessible to the student body.”

Many colleges and universities across the nation have adapted to many challenges created by COVID-19. Social distancing guidelines and keeping in mind the protection and safety of the well being of students and faculty have restricted not only in-person classes, but also various sports, clubs, and organizations that keep the campus community engaged. As with most schools, Fitchburg State has overcome these obstacles and made many of these social opportunities possible for students to broaden their interests and stay involved virtually.