With UC Santa Barbara well into its first quarter of remote instruction, student organizations are experimenting with new methods of operation to engage members who are no longer on campus.
While student leaders are getting creative behind their screens to make their organizations accessible to students who are spread across the country, many have shifted their focus to becoming a resource for students and finding meaningful digital alternatives to in-person events.
According to the Office of Student Life (OSL), there are currently 366 registered campus organizations at UCSB, many of whom are attempting to transfer their membership services and activities online.
Christine Kim, a fourth-year economics major and current president of the American Marketing Association (AMA) at UCSB — a professional organization offering students hands-on experience in marketing through internship opportunities and workshops — said there was uncertainty among the executive members during the AMA’s transition to remote operation.
“At first, when we heard about the email, we thought we were just going to have to put everything on pause. Our main events are the general meetings we have biweekly in a big room where we invite [guest speakers],” Kim said. “We weren’t completely sure how to make all that virtual.”
However, after re-evaluating their options, Kim and the AMA executive board decided that the AMA would continue general meetings through email newsletters sharing webinars on various marketing topics and slide decks with project updates and internship opportunities.
“Everything’s just been really difficult to transition to. We want to run our organization while still being flexible to everyone’s circumstances, and so by doing a newsletter format … they can access the slide deck and the webinar or the event any time they want to,” Kim explained.
In addition to transitioning meetings online, student organizations have also been forced to cancel upcoming in-person events and to consider the prospect of hosting virtual replacements.
Frances Woo, a third-year sociology major and current editor-in-chief of Um… Magazine, an online and print publication for marginalized voices, said that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the organization’s plans for print distribution and its benefit concert fundraiser.
“Normally what we do every quarter is we collect submissions, compile and design them into a physical print magazine, and then we have a launch event where we distribute them all around IV and on campus,” Woo said.
“We usually have a benefit concert fundraiser too, but because we can’t do that physically, we’re trying to figure out remote ways to do it, maybe like a livestream session or sort of a video we can put out.”
While there will be no physical print for the magazine this quarter, Woo said they will instead focus on their website platform. Um… Magazine is currently accepting art submissions for its remote volume and creative competition, both of which are projects that aim to shed light on the social implications of the coronavirus.
Intersectional Feminists (IFEM), a community organization centered around intersectionality, education and empowerment of marginalized voices, is also addressing the social impacts of coronavirus by serving as a resource for students, according to Ky Youssef, a third-year sociology and environmental studies major and president of IFEM.
“We completely acknowledge this is a hard time for some for many reasons and understand the hardships with some people going back to their families. Our social media is open for anyone to come talk to,” Youssef said in an email.
IFEM has opted to forgo holding general meetings through online methods such as Zoom — the organization is instead having officers do weekly takeovers on the Intersectional Feminists Instagram to educate members on topics each officer is passionate about, Youssef explained.
“We did one last week by our historian, Alana, who did a spiel about mental health tips during this quarantine. She talked about grounding techniques which can help with anxiety,” Youssef said.
In terms of fostering social connections that are typically forged in person, the transition to online operation has proven to be an ongoing challenge for student organizations. Kim noted how online methods of communication, while effective in conveying information, lack the personal nature of in-person interactions that help create a sense of community among AMA members.
“I think our organization benefits a lot from having that community aspect … It’s been challenging to continue that priority for our organization, like the face-to-face network, because you can establish a lot of strong professional connections just through that,” Kim said.
The shift to digital operation has also had a considerable effect on member participation, as it is increasingly difficult for organizations to track meeting attendance and facilitate projects that normally occur in person.
“Of course, we have a lower number of members attending [general meetings]. We’re not completely sure if it’s people going through the slide deck and watching the webinar and forgetting to sign in, or if members aren’t participating,” Kim explained.
Additionally, group projects in Um… Magazine have been challenging to facilitate solely through Zoom, according to Woo.
“A lot of the general members want to work on group projects with each other, but it’s hard, especially with Zoom, where only one person can talk at a time, to establish those connections and especially new connections with new members,” Woo said.
In trying to adapt to quarantine life and online courses, many student organization leaders have yet to establish a long-term operation plan in the event that remote instruction and social distancing progress beyond spring quarter and summer session. As of now, student organizations are taking it day by day, focusing on what they can accomplish through digital means.
Youssef noted that while IFEM is unsure about future plans, it will continue to remain an active resource by attending virtual town halls and education webinars.
Ultimately, spring quarter will be a time for student organizations to experiment with digital modes of outreach and make the appropriate adjustments to create a concrete method of operation, as explained by Woo.
“I think a lot of what we decide this quarter will just be prolonged as long as social distancing goes. This quarter is going to be a lot of testing stuff out and seeing what works and what doesn’t,” Woo said.