Deconstitution a concern for some clubs struggling to engage members and execs

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several AMS clubs have been struggling to engage members and executives.

Clubs are trying to find virtual ways to attract members with the support of new AMS initiatives. However, since membership is still low for many clubs, they face a greater risk of deconstitution.

“It’s much harder to find people [to get involved],” said Sarah Song, president of AMS Signs. “Many students gave feedback that they really loved our ASL lessons but they were just an added hour of Zoom, so they understandably didn’t want to attend.”

Over the course of the fall semester, member and executive activity tapered off dramatically for some clubs.

“At the end of the semester, we only had one or two people coming [to our ASL lessons], other than the execs. Even some of the execs couldn't commit completely,” said Song.

But clubs are also learning to use the online format to their advantage. Since they can’t rely on in-person social connection to attract students anymore, they focus more on creating content on a greater scale. For example, AMS Signs was able to host a panel event with eight panelists and two sign language interpreters.

“[The event] would have been a logistical nightmare in person,” said Song.

Zoom fatigue is common among members of other clubs as well, such as co-founders and co-presidents of Creative Industries Network, Bhavika Mahtani and Yogmaya Singh. However, they’ve found that keeping Zoom meetings as short as possible while having “game breaks” helps.

“We try to make our meetings not seem like work in the way that Zoom always feels,” said Mahtani.

Clubs are also spreading their content across various platforms so more students can interact with it passively. Video series, workshops, live streams and podcasts are being explored so clubs are producing “their best content” this year, according to Singh.

“Now, the unique selling point isn’t social connection … Because all our time is spent on Zoom, more thought is being put into content and platforms that distinguish clubs from one another,” added Mahtani.

Support from the AMS was also “a great boost,” according to Mahtani. With financial aid such as the Video Conferencing Grant and the club startup fund, both Creative Industries Network and AMS Signs were able to afford special online events, collaborations or guest speakers.

Regardless, membership remains low for both clubs.

“Sitting at a desk and staring at a screen for even longer isn’t appealing to a lot of students,” said Song. “There’s nothing we can really do about that.”

Minimal student engagement means that club deconstitution is “a huge fear,” according to Song, whose club was constituted mere months ago. She said that, since the executives of her club were all graduating this year, finding students willing to take over is “that much harder” owing to lack of student involvement.

According to the AMS Clubs Handbook, club deconstitution can occur if clubs lack event and member services, or have fewer than ten members, among other reasons. As a deconstituted club can’t access AMS funds, facilities and resources, clubs face several disadvantages if deconstituted.

But AMS VP Administration Sylvester Mensah Jr urged club executives to stay optimistic even though “it’s easy to keep the mindset that, this year … opportunities may not be available.”

He added that the AMS has created new ways for clubs to increase student engagement in light of the online term. These initiatives included reduced membership fees, engagement surveys, the Video Conferencing Grant, which 175 clubs used in the fall term, and the online Imagine Day event, which saw almost 10,000 participants and about 75,000 booth visits.

The AMS is also launching a new initiative called Clubs Expositions to increase student interest in and engagement with clubs. Clubs Expositions will be live-streamed on the AMS Events YouTube channel during spring term club days, giving clubs the chance to prepare activities to show to the student body.

Mensah said that, as the AMS is creating several resources to “level the playing field” for clubs operating virtually, the standards for deconstitution will remain intact.

“We’re really trying to empower our club executives to be creative and adapt to current practices. We believe that, given the opportunities being presented by the AMS and adopted by club executives, this year will probably be quite similar to other years when it comes to deconstitution.”