Theoretically, clubs are a great way to explore passions outside your major, meet new people and go to a space surrounded by those who share the same interests. However, nowadays club meetings often take place online. Clubs are meant to be a space where you can interact and have fun with others, but that can be hard to facilitate in a virtual environment. Especially with online classes, those connections you hoped to find or previously experienced through in-person meetings may feel lost. Club leaders who planned to start their clubs in-person last spring or fall were met with the challenge of maintaining membership. Despite there being room for more students to join clubs no matter their location, the amount of engagement clubs received has generally decreased.
“I created the club after taking the horticulture cannabis course in the plant sciences department, and it was actually pretty difficult to start the club because cannabis is in the name and automatically it’s kind of a bad word to a lot of administration,” said Macie Mancini, a sixth-semester student and president of the Cannabis Club.
Mancini said as soon as she finished planning a lot of hands-on and interactive activities for her club, the pandemic caused a transfer to virtual meetings. She was especially looking forward to building a hydroponics system with club members, which according to Mancini is not only conducive for growing cannabis, but also important for agriculture.
Due to both the pandemic and high cannabis restrictions in Connecticut, Mancini said she didn’t have many choices besides just posting articles about cannabis in the club’s Facebook group. She hopes members can stay informed through the articles, but knows that there is a lack of engagement.
Mancini added it was challenging because she had never met any of her club members in-person before. She got to know some members virtually, but still had trouble getting to know the majority of the club. Despite these challenges, Mancini said she is hopeful things will return to normal in the fall semester.
“My love for the club kept me motivated to run the club.”
“My love for the club kept me motivated to run the club,” Mancini said. “I love cannabis, I’m studying it and I’m going into it after I graduate. So, that and also engaging other people and the activism aspect … [I’m] just hoping that when this whole thing is over that we can resume it and I can kind of continue it and make it better [and more] widespread and pass it along to somebody when I graduate. I think it’s definitely … one of those clubs where if you’re a new student at UConn, … you’re like, ‘oh cool, there are cannabis clubs, that’s really neat.’ It gives people an opportunity to learn about something different, so if I can keep that going I think it will be very valuable in the future.”
The pandemic put a pause on physical interaction and time spent with loved ones. For the elderly in nursing homes, this can be particularly lonesome. Second-semester UConn students Nandini Pasagadugula and Moira Renee Agcaoili wanted to create a club to change that. After volunteering at Yale-New Haven Hospital a couple of years ago, Pasagadugula and Agcaoili were inspired to create a club that helps connect elders and UConn students.
The club, Caring Crew For You, focuses on creating a pen pal relationship between UConn students and the elderly in nursing homes and hospitals. Though the club was created last semester, it was difficult to sort out some of the logistics, such as the costs of mailing letters and club organization, according to Agcaoili, the vice president of Caring Crew for You. She added it was not only hard to get new members to join in a virtual setting, but as freshman students, they also did not have connections with professors, making it difficult to establish the club.
“As freshmen, we didn’t know how to balance classes with everything else,” said Pasagadugula the president of Caring Crew for You. “This was not high school, was what we got out of it. We have to do a lot more work while balancing the club and getting it started. I think that’s why it became stressful, because we still weren’t used to UConn.”
Although the executive board was expecting a low turnout, they were surprised to see a good showing for the club during their first meeting. They were also surprised to hear how open nursing homes were to establishing a pen pal relationship. In the fall, the club hopes to possibly visit nursing homes. They emphasized the goal of the club is to create a space that provides companionship to elders through pen pal relationships.
“This is more of a club [where] you do your thing, then we can send your letters. But if it can be more interactive, hopefully…in the fall we can all gather and write letters and stamp them,” Pasagadugula said. “We are thinking something along those lines, that would be more exciting instead of an extra burden you have to do.”
The Association of Country Music Enthusiasts started their club right at the beginning of the pandemic. The club meets on Zoom or Discord whenever members want to discuss a country song. Like other clubs, it took time for ACME to adjust to the virtual setting.
“One of the things I noticed was that we had trouble getting new members…”
“One of the things I noticed was that we had trouble getting new members … we had a whole bunch of people sign up on UConntact but very few of those people respond to the emails we send out,” said Jamie Kurowski, the media director for ACME. “So, even though we have a larger roster, we actually don’t have that many people coming to meetings or responding to us.”
According to Kurowski, when meetings were in-person students would dance to country songs, but being online take a lot of personality out of meetings. However, it does create room for more people to join from different locations.
“When we were having the in-persons, I feel like more people showed up because you had that in-person experience you can think back to,” said Douglas Olmstead, president of ACME.
“Oh, I was in this specific location and could even think back [to when] I was in this building with all these other people. As opposed to well, I’ve been at a computer screen staring at five different meetings today, I can’t really distinguish that, you know it doesn’t really stand out as much.”
For the UConn Art History Club, the shift to virtual meetings also came with the challenge of maintaining membership. However, the enthusiasm of the executive board led the club to think of different ways to keep members engaged.
“…We host events over Zoom that include artist talks, drawing activities, game nights, museum tours.”
“When we started the club, it was with the goal of building a broader art community at UConn,” said Shaelyn Moody, the president of Art History Club. “So connecting people with the art department to each other and also connecting people between the art department and the rest of UConn. We host events over Zoom that include artist talks, drawing activities, game nights, museum tours. So it’s a mix of art and art history and community building.”
Like many other clubs last spring, the Art History Club planned for in-person events. They looked forward to visiting the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, but due to closures, had to move gallery visits online. They took advantage of the virtual environment by inviting guest speakers to their meetings, according to Moody. One notable guest speaker was Deborah Czeresko. Czeresko is known for her glass blowing, and even did a demonstration through Zoom.
“The club we created is basically the club I wish had been here when I showed up at UConn,” said Kathryn Krocheski, vice president of the Art History Club. “Especially since I didn’t come in as an art history major. I came in as a dietetics major so meeting art students, especially [those] who are more academically driven, I thought it wasn’t possible. That is part of the reason why this club is so important to me, especially since we’re so disconnected now, like to be able to meet people is really important.”
The passion of active members in the club motivated club leaders to keep it running. Stella Kozloski, the treasurer of the Art History Club, said she felt everyone is fatigued from online classes and the pandemic, which is why the club is more low-key.
“I think we’re the only art-focused club that has a strong academic connection, like it’s really about facing art and the art history department,” Kozloski said. “It doesn’t mean we’re not accessible to people outside of the department, we love people who have less of a background in art, but it’s really about building off of a critical understanding of art.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Art History Club utilized social media, Zoom, emails and Slack to stay connected with members. Despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions, Krocheski said not much has changed from how they ran the club last spring to the current semester because the online format has worked for them. In terms of fall, the Art History Club has some in-person activities in mind, but due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, are subject to change.
“I feel like I’ve engaged with the art and art history community at UConn so much more than I would’ve otherwise and it’s just been a really wonderful experience.”
“I feel like I’ve engaged with the art and art history community at UConn so much more than I would’ve otherwise and it’s just been a really wonderful experience,” Moody said. “We’ve gotten so much support from the art and art history department, so many of our professors supporting us and helping us get artists, it’s been a really wonderful experience for me.”
Whether the clubs started right before the pandemic or during it, there was a consensus that membership suffered due to a lack of interactivity and fatigue from online classes. Clubs that had the chance to run their activities on campus before the pandemic hit said the interactivity from in-person meetings is irreplaceable. Some clubs are hopeful for the fall, while others are staying cautious and planning for both situations.