Right now, instead of focusing on what we are limited by, student organizations should focus on engaging their community and fostering collaboration.
Firstly, student orgs should find ways to keep doing what they're best at in a virtual format if possible. Since most student orgs are based on people sharing a certain interest, figure out how to best express that interest in a virtual format. For many, this will mean meeting over video call and talking about the interest, but it can also mean virtual concerts where musicians show off what they’ve been working on or playing board games digitally on websites such as Tabletopia. Find a way to still do what brought your group together in the first place.
Once you have addressed how to express your group’s main purpose in an online format, it’s also important to note that you aren’t necessarily limited to only doing your student org’s main thing at all your meetings. This pandemic might just be your chance to foster your community by organizing fun activities to engage it in other ways, too.
Digital interactive games are a fun way to give your group chances to interact in ways that let everyone participate. A good free option is running trivia matches on Kahoot. Though Jackbox Games has a one-time cost, it can give more varied options. With Zoom’s functionality, you can get as creative as you like. For instance, the website Nerds Chalk has a tutorial of how to play the classic game Mafia, also known as Werewolf, over Zoom chat.
For more asynchronous community building, GroupMe and Discord might be good options for larger student orgs. Giving your community a space to talk about what they are passionate about can build deeper connections between your group members and help them feel more supported during this difficult time.
The main goal for student orgs should be getting students truly involved. Find a way to incorporate every student’s contribution and you’ll find that you have a tighter knit community that is able to better themselves, better the campus and better the world as a whole. Gathering submissions for a shared project, such as a compilation video or a student work showcase on Instagram, can show that your organization is still active and working to encourage your members to do their best work.
One more thing to consider is that volunteering doesn’t have to stop because of the pandemic. Sites such as dosomething.org aggregate opportunities to serve our larger community even if we can’t do so in person.
Seeking new members this year is likely to be difficult; there’s no getting around it. Your best bets are participating in digital org fairs through USC and being active on social media.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2019, 18- to 24-year-olds were almost equally likely to use Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, (76%, 75% and 73%, respectively). The age group's usage of YouTube is even higher at 90%. Being present on these platforms can give your student org opportunities to connect with new and returning students alike.
Make your social media attractive to prospective students by using design apps such as Canva to make graphics giving details for group events and highlighting what students are doing that is relevant to the purpose of the group. A friendly competition that encourages students to post photos or videos can also be used to boost engagement.
Although this semester is likely to be very different for all student orgs, if we really work at it, we will be able to foster similar connections in online platforms without risking the health of those involved.