How Campus Clubs and Organizations Still Feel the Effects of COVID-19

by Sarah McLaughlin '23 on March 2, 2023

Editor's Column

Every member of the Class of 2023 remembers what they were doing on March 6, 2020. I remember saying goodbye to my friends and roommates before my back-to-back class and Civ seminar, in which we ironically discussed how next week’s topic would be the bubonic plague. We left campus excited for break but with an underlying air of nervousness. Some of our parents were already saying we’d be home for at least two weeks, maybe more—my mom was already stocking our cabinets with canned goods in early February—while others were more optimistic. But none of us really knew what was going on, or how lasting the effects of COVID-19 would be—in particular, its impacts on our clubs and organizations.

As the “last pre-COVID class,” as some of us have dubbed ourselves, we’ve witnessed some clubs on campus go from over one hundred active members to half their original size. Sometimes it means that, when you show up to club meetings, just executive board members and maybe a few others will be there. It means event planning and organization is much more difficult. It means we are worried about certain clubs having a future, because there’s no one to take over after we graduate. Executive positions for some clubs used to be competitive, and now it’s often a struggle to find students willing to step up. COVID-19 didn’t just make us socially isolated for a year or two; it has had a lasting impact on students’ leadership, teamwork skills, and motivation.

PC seemed to try its hardest, but the virtual programming of the 2020-21 academic year and Fall 2021 semester just didn’t interest students to nearly the same degree, and this likely dissuaded new students from joining clubs. When we were stuck in our dorm rooms with our laptops and phones as the only means of social connection, most of us were turning to means of escapism—Netflix, YouTube, TikTok—not even more Zoom meetings on top of our classes and jobs that had all turned virtual. According to OpenVault’s Broadband Insights Report, average broadband consumption increased by 47 percent from the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2020. In September 2021, according to Pew Research, 40 percent of US adults reported they felt worn out or fatigued from too many video calls, and 83 percent of US adults described virtual communication as not good enough compared to in-person contact.

Now that we’ve been unmasked and vaccinated for a full year, it’s saddening to see that some clubs still haven’t returned to their pre-COVID levels of functioning. Some are certainly on the rise again, and we can remain hopeful that this trend will continue, albeit slowly. We can make a plea to the Class of 2024 as well—this is your chance to become leaders. Leading a club is challenging (it’s not easy trying to plan a budget, ask for money, maybe receive all of that money, and juggle a bunch of busy students’ calendars to schedule events and meetings), but it is rewarding work and more than just “resume padding.” I know we’ve all become a little too addicted to staying in our rooms and watching our favorite shows over the past few years, but the opportunity is out there now, so students should be taking advantage of it.