Student organisations in times of pandemic
Student organisations bring students together, but how can you do that during a pandemic? How can you create a spirit of community when meeting in real life is not an option? Various student organisations in Maastricht reported similar problems dealing with online events; people are done with online meetings, don’t always show up when they say they will, and are reluctant to look for activities outside their own social circle. They had to come up with creative ideas to substitute real-life activities – with varying degrees of success.
COVID-19 restrictions meant the ultimate end for some activities. This happened to the climbing association, which cannot access the climbing gym, and to the football club, which for a long time could not organise soccer practices. Online events had to substitute physical ones, but that did not prove to be very successful. “I tried with pub quizzes and online games,” says Julia Antonioli, who takes care of social events for the soccer club. “We would have between five and ten participants.” A small percentage compared to the almost two hundred members of the club. But Antonioli still makes the effort to organise these activities for the few dedicated ones.
Focus on the future
Another problem is that it is often very hard to predict how many people will participate, says Puck van Donselaar from international student organisation Kaleido. Her organisation is the only one that decided to completely discontinue online activities and instead focus on the future. “Kaleido’s members are generally introduced to the organisation in an informal and spontaneous way, often through friends, and this mode of interaction simply cannot be replicated online.”
While other organisations keep trying to organise online events, they have to be able to motivate students to participate. “People are fed up with online meetings,” says Hannah Wagner from the event committee of the United Nations Student Association Maastricht (UNSA). A vision shared by Ramona Doliff, president of student climbing organisation MaasSAC, who believes that it is important to have a good reason to get students to spend more time in front of their computers. “We are still figuring out how to involve our members.”
Vera Tschirsch, from student theatre organisation Alles is Drama, noticed that “having a drink or a small chat in front of a screen does not seem appealing to most of the students”. She has learned from experience that, to increase the level of engagement, well-structured events work better. “In this way, it is also possible to involve new and less active members, who would otherwise not feel comfortable attending an online event. By giving the participants something concrete to do and a specific purpose to join the meeting, it is possible to interest more people and not only the few regular attendants.” As an example, she mentions the haunted house they created for Halloween; an online escape room that proved to be “very spooky”.
Outside the bubble
Expanding outside their bubble has been one of the struggles faced by Maastricht 4 Climate. “It is difficult to leave your social circle,” reports Laura Belse. “Reaching new people is harder without the possibility of distributing flyers and organising promotion events in real life.” However, the use of social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, presented a solution for some. As an example, study organisation SOFASoS expanded its online community by creating a Q&A space for first-year students, games with prizes to be won, and a debating platform for the diverse opinions of the FASoS community.
Guilherme Augusto Laidens Feistauer, president of SOFASoS: “I believe that making the right use of technology, adding a pinch of creativity and with highly motivated members, student organisations can find ways to engage in meaningful activities.”
Whether they have succeeded in this or not, no organisation reported a decrease in the number of their members. In some cases, they even increased. “This proves to me that students are still willing to engage and want to feel part of a community,” says Belse.