Student Activities Office Pushes Forward with Events Despite Challenges

John Rush, the Human iPod, performing requested songs during a live virtual show for HFC’s  Welcome Back Days

Photo credit: John Rush, the Human iPod, performing requested songs during a live virtual show for HFC’s Welcome Back Days. Photo by Tyronne Simmons.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing the vast majority of classes and college administrative work to be done from a distance, the student activities office at Henry Ford College is working tirelessly to create engaging opportunities outside of the classroom for students throughout the semester. Without the option of holding the large, in-person events that are typical of fall semesters at HFC, the office of student activities has opted for a slate of virtual events but it is unclear if these events will be a sufficient replacement for what students have come to expect from the institution.

HFC’s Welcome Back Days, one of the biggest events of the semester which includes the student club fair, karaoke, and other performances, was held entirely online this semester. The office of student activities promoted the events by sending out regular emails to the students as well as posting the information on the college’s website but participation in the online events was even lower than expected.

“The line of communication did not go as planned in getting the word out to students,” said Mandy Earl, student activities associate. “We continue to work on different ways to communicate with the entire student body to make them aware of all the activities that are available to them within student life. The students who were able to participate really seemed to enjoy the activities and were engaged with each other,” she continued.

The student activities office is active on Facebook and Instagram with 97 and 317 followers respectively, a tiny fraction of the student body. They use the platforms to host events, and to put out information regarding future events.

The Constitution Day Celebration/Trivia Contest event took place on Sept. 17 as a part of Welcome Back Days. The event included a detailed explanation of the history of the constitution, information on voter registration, and featured former students. Only four students participated in the trivia contest. Twenty-eight people viewed the video on Facebook.

Schoolcraft College in Livonia, MI is also running into difficulty trying to create engaging activities for their students despite the virus. “We have been busy through the shutdown to analyze our operation both with and without seeing students in person. Most of our student clubs in the fall are looking at advocacy, bringing in guest speakers and some fun trivia and giveaway events where students can win cash and prizes.” said Todd Stowell, the Director of the Student Activities office at Schoolcraft.

The school hosted a virtual club fair and plans to use their student news publication, The Schoolcraft Connection, to promote the various causes of student groups on campus. “The ideal situation is for the club officers to help write the stories for publishing, but we also have editors and soon to be staff writers taking up the call to write as well,” said Stowell.

Students at both colleges may be feeling overstimulated by being online for most of the day. With many working, learning, and socializing online, a few extra hours in front of the screen isn’t preferable for most. “We’re worried about the Zoom fatigue,” said Earl. Students “are going to be on the computer all day long, so are you going to want to get on the computer for an extracurricular activity? I don’t know,” Earl added.

Extracurriculars have been strongly affected as well. The showcasing of the college’s clubs and organizations has historically been a big part of Welcome Back Days, with students promoting their organizations to potential club members. This year, the event was online, and many clubs were unable to participate.

There are over 40 student clubs and organizations on campus. The pandemic has complicated how these groups conduct business. “We [can’t] be on campus and do some volunteering activities and just be together, chatting and having fun,” said Rakha Albayat, president of the Student Environmental Association (SEA).

Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges, has shifted its focus away from Leadership and Service, which involves many in-person activities, to Scholarship and Fellowship through research. “This year, we will be continuing our year-long ‘Honors In Action’ project that is meant to give our chapter members an opportunity to develop their critical thinking, communication and research skills as we explore globally relevant topics,” said Yasmeen Berry, an officer of Phi Theta Kappa.

Some student groups see the pandemic as an opportunity to explore new ideas that might not have seemed available to them in previous semesters. “We are all thinking of some creative ways to replace those activities with ones that we can do at our homes since home now is our ‘campus’. In fact, when I think about it, this might be an opportunity for our club members to become more sustainable and one step closer to live an eco-friendly life, spread the word and inspire others,” Albayat said.

Amy Manning, Vice President of Fellowship for Phi Theta Kappa, sees the pandemic as a way of promoting more free time. “Since we are a group comprised of high achieving students, many of our members are busy with full-time classes, extracurriculars, and work, which overlapped with our in-person activities. Now that most classes are online, our members may have more flexibility in the schedules and be able to fit our activities in better. Plus, some people are more comfortable being a part of video-call meetings than face-to-face ones, anyway.”

As the office of student activities plans future events, they encourage students to reach out to them with suggestions and ideas for improvement as well as to share any difficulty they may have had while registering or attending events so their plans can reach a wider audience.

“I would encourage students to still try to reach out and get engaged and do stuff. There’s lots of things that you can still do now virtually,” Earl said.