Student organizations at the University of Memphis are at the heart of the undergraduate experience for many college students, but how did they manage to thrive and recruit in the midst of a pandemic?
In addition to classes, all in-person meetings that would have originally been held at the UofM were either adjusted to a virtual platform or cancelled. Many of the on-campus institutions, such as clubs, fraternities and sororities – had to re-assess how they would operate functionally while maintaining student interest.
Student organizations, such as SGA, have been continuously encouraging student engagement through social media by hosting meetings on Zoom that are open to the entire student body. The sole purpose of the UofM hosting a variety of student activities, such as clubs and Greek life, is to increase student involvement, in and out of classes.
The University of Memphis has an array of clubs that allow students to join in fellowship with their peers. This is a way for students and teachers to join their passions with their studies.
“The Student History Society (SHS) has been doing an awesome job of keeping up with events,” said Laura Ann Lothrop, member of the SHS. “We have a handful of events per month. Just last week we had our ‘Caffeine and Cake’ talk with Dr. Potter, which was an informal Q&A centered around her specialty: family and marriage history.
"The tricky part isn’t the events though, it's keeping students interested. Obviously, there are about a dozen of us who are still very passionate about keeping the society active, even though our time and abilities are limited, but there are some members who have kind of disappeared. I think that might be because Zoom isn’t very desirable, and it’s easy to get burned out nowadays. We’re still getting new members pretty frequently though, which is exciting.”
As the possibility for an in-person experience with organizations grew slim, many clubs like SHS became more creative as they wanted to continue to maintain their student engagement.
While most of the UofM campus utilizes Zoom as a gateway tool for students to continue to connect with their classes and clubs, it is beginning to drain the interest out of students, making it feel repetitive. Lothrop is also a member of the Beta Xi chapter of Sigma Kappa sorority.
“For SK, we’ve done the obvious things like switching events and meetings to zoom, but our actual day-to-day involvement in the sorority is more about cultivating our friendships,” she said. “So really the biggest way our sorority has adjusted is similar to how non-Greek life friends have adjusted. We try to avoid big, mask-less settings, and we’ve all really focused on one-on-one or small-group lunch dates or coffee dates. I’ve actually really enjoyed focusing on individual friendships at one time. I feel more emotionally connected with my sisters that way.”
Lothrop and other members of the student body involved in clubs or sororities have the opportunity to still feel connected to each other, even without the face-to-face contact.
Although the virtual UofM life can be draining for some students, a day in the life for a college student is scheduled around the time spent in class. What students do outside of their courses is what is commonly attributed as their collegiate experience.
According to the AASM, about 62.4 percent of all college students are involved in extracurricular activities. Joining clubs, sororities and fraternities can enhance the undergraduate experience.
While the pandemic life is not viewed as the most spectacular way to live, the core of getting through it all is being able to connect with your peers. The best way to connect, some say, is to be involved in what the University has to offer.