Student organizations find new ways to connect amid pandemic barriers

(Illustration by Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

The Young Democrats and Star Wars Club are just a couple of the student organizations forced to find creative ways to connect this semester as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic imposes limitations to gatherings and day-to-day life.

Though tricky, some groups have found success with virtual recruiting events, like the fall Activities Carnival that was held exclusively over Zoom at the start of the semester.

“It’s actually been a strong kick-off,” Kirsten Novotny, president of Young Democrats and senior in animal science, said. “We gained like eight to 10 members that night.”

Jacqueline Barth, treasurer of Young Democrats and sophomore in interior design, said she was surprised by how many people attended the first meeting.

“There were quite a few people, and quite a few new people as well,” Barth said.

Will Yungeberg, a member of the Star Wars Club and senior in architectural engineering, said that participation has been about the same as it was pre-pandemic.

In fact, online meetings might be more convenient for some club members, Yungeberg said.

“I think talking online is easier to talk to someone when you are not face-to-face with them.” Yungeberg said. “Most of the members are polite to let others talk and [that] has not been an issue.”

The first meeting of Young Democrats is usually the one with the highest attendance as people get disconnected through the semester, Barth said, but with the accessibility of Zoom meetings she hopes participation stays consistent.

“I think that it is easier to come to the meetings because you are at home and you don’t need to have your camera on,” Barth said. “You can just sit and listen or you can have it on and be present but also work on something else like homework or making dinner.”

Both clubs have found that Zoom has helped them in some ways, such as not having the trouble of securing space in the K­-State Student Union or having members get lost trying to find the meeting.

Zach Perez, member of the Star Wars Club and junior in journalism, said the backgrounds on Zoom have helped to bring more fun and less formality to the meetings. Also, there are other benefits, Yungeberg said

“I think that virtual meetings can do better because it is harder to get someone up to talk about something, and there is always the issue of trying to get the PowerPoint on,” Yungeberg said. “This way all you have to do is click a button and it is in the background.”

Last semester when students had to return home, Young Democrats experimented with some ways to make virtual meetings more fun.

“We were doing movie nights through the Netflix party on Chrome, one of our executive members had Jackbox on her computer, so we would have Jackbox game night,” Novotny said. “It is just so that every time we are meeting it is not so political heavy. People are actually able to get to know others in the group.

To further improve engagement, Novotny said Young Democrats sent out a survey in July to place people with similar interests in subgroups, such as hiking, coffee, books or Minecraft.

It was just an idea for us, we all have an interest in politics but then someone might want to step outside of that for a little bit,” Novotny said. “It’s a better way for people to get to know each other and to get more involved with the club in smaller circles.

Before COVID-19, Young Democrats and the Star Wars Club would regularly table in the Union, promote their group with sidewalk chalk and have other types of engagement with the student body.

“When we look at 2018, because that was the last election year, we were tabling almost every day of the week,” Novotny said.

Perez said while they thought about chalking, there aren’t enough people on campus now to justify it.

In lieu of chalking and tabling, groups are doubling down on other recruiting tactics like social media accounts.

Novotny said the Young Democrats have a very active Twitter account and post regularly, Barth said that they are also relying on word of mouth.