With the widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in North Carolina, the chances of a return to normal at UNCW seemed quite optimistic. However, that progress came to a halt when UNCW informed students of a COVID-19 cluster at Sandpiper Residence Hall on August 23, 2021. The next day it was announced that the university would be suspending all in-person events and activities. which are not related to the courses. On Monday, UNCW extended the current guidelines and restrictions until October 15.
Student organizations are perhaps taking the biggest hit.
The announcement of the cancellation of events and in-person meetings was made a day before the annual carnival participation. Sponsored by the Campus Activities and Involvement Center, the event features various departments of UNCW and student-led organizations that cater to student interests. The abrupt cancellation of the carnival made it difficult for student leaders to come forward and interact with potential club members this semester. This situation also forced many clubs to reschedule their events as they relied on in-person attendance for social engagement purposes.
Executive members from several campus organizations were able to provide details on the impact of the new security protocol on their operations, as well as how they have adapted to it.
The Association of Campus Entertainment acts as one of UNCW’s largest student programming organizations; their student-produced events allow the UNCW community to engage in fun activities such as film screenings, arts and crafts, school spirit and concerts. They were able to organize in-person events like “Crafternoon” with origami, “Silent Disco” and “Chancellor’s Chill” before the virtual transition. All of their upcoming events are canceled or moved online. As ACE events tend to have a high student participation, their plans for the coming weeks have changed dramatically.
Despite ACE’s revamped calendar of events, Vice President of Operations Nadia Whitesell believes going virtual can work in their favor.
“As with us who want to reach a broader dynamic of students, in particular off-campus students; it’s going to bring all these off-campus students to our virtual events. And these are events that they wouldn’t normally be able to attend if they were in person, ”Whitesell said.
Creative Arts Club allows students to explore their artistic interests through various mediums and to collaborate with others who share similar passions. Their meetings also include workshops where students can try out new mediums. Their last in-person meeting was in the spring of 2020. While the club struggles to make virtual engagement as effective as it is in person, they have learned to adapt to circumstances.
Co-Chairs Hanna Keshk and Shelby Watson provided details on their club’s transition.
“One of our core values as a club is collaboration, and it’s very difficult for people to meet new people and collaborate online. We don’t have that one-on-one interaction that we might have in person. So it’s hard to encourage collaboration, ”Watson said.
“And there are people who don’t like breakout rooms. Then they will go quietly without our knowing it, ”Keshk said.
Despite the challenge of adapting in-person workshops to zoom, as well as keeping students’ attention, Watson and Keshk continue to strive to engage their club members.
“We also always try to have social events online, like Friday lunches, and hope to have workshops in person, of course with masks and following safety protocols outside. But we hope, if COVID remains manageable, that we can have some sort of in-person event to offer to students, ”Watson said.
TealTV is a student media organization specializing in the production of media content such as podcasts, reports, comedy sketches and political satire. As the organization’s content is production-based, in-person interactions are especially important so that the producers of each show are able to create the content.
“Even for our officers, they [in-person interactions] are extremely important. It is very important to keep the morale of the people who run each of these clubs. And I’ve seen the difference between in-person meetings and Zoom meetings, and they’re completely different. I would say a lot of people just aren’t as motivated and creative when it’s over Zoom, ”said Vice President Rachel Osterhoudt.
The cancellation of the Carnival Involvement is a contributing factor for few members of the organization this semester. Carnival previously allowed TealTV to gain new members; but several productions have few participants at the moment, in particular the program Seahawk Central Sports which currently lacks a producer.
“We all planned to have a great team for each show this year. ‘Shore Thing’ in particular was looking to have a cameraman and microphone for the first time in years. We were looking to add more people to the team for this and for Seahawk Central News. At Seahawk Central News so far all we have are people who have been with TealTV before, we don’t have freshmen, ”Osterhoudt said.
TealTV’s mission to create compelling and creative media content for UNCW has not diminished, but it requires more students in order to maintain consistent quality and promote original ideas.
The Black Student Union organizes events that cater to social interests, academics, and pre-professional programs that unify and create a vibrant community for UNCW students. These events include a barbecue to welcome students for each new school year and a debriefing meeting after the upcoming Internship and Career Fair on September 22 to discuss career goals and aspirations. While BSU was optimistic about staying in person for most of the semester, they remained cautious about a return to virtual.
“I think for this year we were a little more prepared to maybe go virtual than we were last year. I know last year all black organizations including BSU had a full plan and we really didn’t have a[n] idea how to go virtual… but this year, I think we are a little more prepared. Yes, we are still planning in-person programming, but we always knew there was an opportunity to go back to virtual – we anticipate the worst, but hope for the best, ”said President Christopher Neal.
As other committee leaders have noted about their own organizations, BSU Treasurer Cierra Johnson and Junior Representative Mari Greene believe that in-person engagement gives students the best experience in their organization.
“I think in-person activities are very important to the black community on campus, just because there aren’t a lot of safe spaces dedicated to us, or for some students, they just don’t no space to go otherwise. So having a place where we can all come together is really important so that we can see more engagement with our program, ”Johnson said.
“I agree. This is my first year with BSU, and just being able to be a part and communicate with people in person has been a major change for me. positively impacting me, and I would like to continue to do so in the safest way possible, ”said Greene.
The student government association primarily receives feedback from the student body and ensures that student opinion is taken into account for collective decision-making at weekly Senate and committee meetings. They get students’ opinions by dropping off at places such as the Chancellor’s promenade and first-year residences, which are now shut down due to COVID-19 protocols. Additionally, SGA hosts events that promote diversity, inclusion and sustainability by co-sponsoring with other organizations including the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement and 350 UNCW.
Student body vice president Thomas Wilson acknowledges his stint at SGA has helped him get used to virtual operations last year. Wilson recognizes a strange reality after three semesters of a pandemic: New students often don’t know what non-virtual involvement looks like.
“This is actually only my second year in LMS, so all of my experience with student government has been in the virtual modality. So, I think, again, it’s kind of like having a year to train last year what it would be like if everything was online again, we set for success. That being said, there are a lot of hard goals to achieve with the virtual modality that are obviously kind of broken, ”Wilson said.
Some traditions, like their monthly breakfast with the Vice Chancellor, moved to an online setting – one breakfast had to be canceled due to a lack of interest in the early morning Zoom setting.
“In a way it’s a little sad, but in another way it teaches us adaptability and we show that we are still able to persevere and bond with these admins in different ways”, Wilson said.
Despite the challenges, Wilson recognizes a stronger connectivity with his peers that makes every interaction deeper and meaningful compared to the virtual setting.
“I think if there is one thing we can take away from this transition to virtual modalities, it is to create stronger bonds with the students who are not seen as often on campus… I think it is This is a really good opportunity to reach out and connect in a variety of ways. And I think over the last year we have seen a greater connection with those students who are usually not represented. And I would like to continue like this, ”Wilson said.
As UNCW clubs and organizations face challenges that hamper recruiting and engaging with new members, many organizations have learned to adapt to new circumstances. Many organization leaders remain optimistic about their ability to meet their respective goals despite the constraints of campus protocol and the danger of COVID-19.