What will become of clubs and student organizations this September?

UBC would be unrecognizable without its constant, familiar hubbub of on-campus clubs going about their daily activities. University clubs, from faculty undergraduate societies to student unions, create a warm experience through the feel of community and contribution.

For incoming students, they’re the first hug into the campus community through their vibrantly coloured booths at Imagine Day. For others, they’re major sources of motivation and excitement to provide some relief to students, particularly during the dreary and damp winter months.

But with most faculties transitioning to predominantly online classes and with a significant amount of the campus population away, what will become of clubs in quarantine?

For clubs that usually recruit their members in September, will Zoom become their saviour? How will movement-based clubs adapt to the challenges of physical distancing? Most importantly, how will they continue to foster a sense of community in this prolonged period of distance?

For student-led organizations like the UBC fraternities who traditionally recruit in September and host in-person events throughout the year the transition online is a challenging one. But Tommi Redl, president of the Interfraternity Council, is confident that open and honest communication is the way to go in terms of leading members.

According to Redl, “demonstrating compassionate leadership, fostering a sense of belonging and giving our members a support system is vital during these trying times.” He suggested that fraternities will “likely have the option to recruit their members online in September,” and also discussed possible online philanthropy events and other virtual activities to foster a sense of commitment for members.

Imagine Day is one of the most important events for undergraduate societies to welcome incoming students into their faculty communities. Since Imagine Day has now moved online, the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) hopes to replace its traditional activities for first years with some equally engaging online alternatives.

Emma Dodyk, EUS president, said “we’re definitely thinking of doing more social media engagements so that people who aren’t in the Pacific Standard Time can still watch videos and see things.”

The EUS is also thinking of putting together a scavenger hunt for incoming students who are living within the same timezone. Additionally, it is also planning to send out simplified ‘swag bags’ with personal handwritten notes.

Since focusing on retaining members during the fall term involves some brainstorming for online activities, Shovon Das, president of the Science Undergraduate Society, affirmed the importance of having an organized team in the months leading up to fall.

“Throughout the summer, all we’re trying to do is hire our teams. There are [no community-building plans for] the summer because it’s hard to build a community when you don’t have a team.”

Given that working remotely during quarantine can be tiring for a myriad of reasons, avoiding burnout and keeping morale high is a key aspect for a club president to consider while ensuring that things are running smoothly. Das knows he has to keep his team motivated. To avoid burnout, he and his team are having regular Zoom calls and playing games on Skribbl.io.

“We’re having Zoom calls [where] we share presentations on things we hate. One of our VPs, for example, did a presentation on why he hates customer service ... although he’s a server himself. I did a presentation on Marvel memes, so it’s [about] funny things.”

For clubs such as the UBC Dance Club that typically rely on the intimacy of physical interaction, physical distancing may pose a challenge.

Juliana Chow, club president, hopes that a club like hers whose focus is ballroom dancing can bridge the gap through its social media presence to engage their members.

“Our club really focuses on being a starting point for a lot of people to join ballroom dance. We [also] change partners throughout the class, so going online has been different for us.” To smoothen the transition, team members are shifting their focus to working on their marketing and social media to engage with members.

While the UBC Dance Club is still fleshing out the logistics of what its plan is for the fall term, Chow has found being elected president during COVID-19 to be challenging. However, she is coming up with new ways to keep her executive team engaged.

“I think overall, [the] motivation is pretty good ... I’m just trying to ride that wave and put in the little bits of encouragement and excitement.”

Some are adapting to unique times of physical distancing in a different way.

The UBC Brazilian Student Association (BRASA) has found a community not only within the club but worldwide through BRASA organizations at other institutions. BRASA has branches in the United States, Europe and other Canadian universities, which allows it to focus on building relationships with other universities, even if it is not able to have events in person on campus.

Luiza Lima, the association’s president, believes that “[BRASA’s] UBC community is going to grow and become a part of the Canadian ... North American community.”

As an international club, BRASA often focuses on hosting events to help incoming students gain vital information related to life in Canada, such as immigration and visa issues. With the transition to an online term, it’s working on sharing this information through its social media.

“We’ve been doing Instagram takeovers to share information about how to get your visa, or how to move to Canada. So it’s been a lot of Instagram and Facebook,” said Lima.

The Black Student Union (BSU), another identity-based association on campus, has focused on deepening its relationship with members and creating a comforting community during quarantine, particularly in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We started by introducing our exec team through a playlist,” said BSU Co-President Tracy Odhiambo. “Each week we do a quarantine playlist and we thought it would be a good way for the community that we represent to get to know one another. Obviously, at a time like this, the Black community is going through injustice and inequality and I think it’s our responsibility to speak out and help our members.”

With the Black Lives Matter movement growing worldwide, Maia Wallace, BSU’s other co-president, believes that using social media is imperative.

“Everyone’s switched on and it’s a rare opportunity for us because all eyes are on us right now, so we’re trying to use our social media as much as possible,” said Wallace.

When asked whether they’re worried about Imagine Day and Clubs Days not gaining the same momentum that they do every year, the co-presidents were confident that this would not have an impact on BSU's membership for the upcoming year.

According to the presidents, Black students are already reaching out to ask questions about how to get involved.

“We’re very lucky that we represent a specific set of people ... So I guess in a sense we don’t have to market ourselves — we’re here for Black people, and if they want to join, we’re here for them,” said Odhiambo.