When Clubs Go Remote…

A look into how club leaders are planning to transition their clubs online.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Cadence Li

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all clubs to flounder in an abrupt switch to the remote sphere, and it has also made the unifying experience that clubs provide more important than ever. While club leaders know that their clubs cannot be entirely replicated in an online format, they hope they can continue to provide interactive environments like those of previous years.

The sudden and unexpected switch to remote learning threw off the election process for club leaders last year. Junior and Student Union (SU) Vice President Shivali Korgaonkar said, “Normally, the SU President and Vice President are elected in April, but this year, both SU and Caucus elections were pushed to September.” She added, “Julian [SU President] and I ran uncontested, meaning we were able to officially take office on September 10 after fulfilling our signature requirements for the petition. However, the [Board of Election] will still be hosting a town hall for Julian and [me], where students can ask us questions and express their concerns.”

Junior and Clubs and Pubs Auditor Jennifer Ji added, “Because of COVID, a lot of elections and positions are empty, and there is more of a delay. Shivali and Julian [just decided on an executive board], but they still have to fill out director positions for this upcoming year.”

While leaders typically promote their clubs by filling the halls of Stuyvesant with vibrant, eye-catching posters, club leaders will now have to take on much more innovative approaches to finding members. Ji shared, “Since we’re switching to remote, it’s a lot harder for freshmen to get engaged and meet members because attending Zoom meetings can be extremely daunting. Facebook will be extremely important this year for clubs to get their name[s] out and get incoming freshmen to join.”

Many clubs have taken advantage of existing social media platforms. “Our most effective method so far is posting in the Dear Incoming Stuyvesant Class of 22, 23, and 24 groups. We have also created a club Instagram account, @stuysavethechildren,” junior Maya Dunayer said when speaking about Save The Children, a club that she helped found last year and a branch of the nonprofit organization by the same name.

Senior and Key Club President David Shi explained Key Club’s plan to attract more members. “Our club plans to compile video clips from members and the board to show what the club entails during this virtual transition,” he shared.

However, students, particularly incoming freshmen, are finding it very difficult to find information about clubs. Freshman Henry Ji said, “ I know a little about the clubs, such as that they will be going online, but I don't have much more information other than that. I also don't really know where to go to find out more information, and a lot of people seem to also be in the dark. I am not very confident [in my knowledge of] how [clubs like] debate [and] sports [teams in general are going to] work.”

A hub of information on the clubs at Stuy, Stuy Activities is meant to function as a place where students can browse through clubs and find information. Junior and member of the SU IT department Victor Veytsman is aware of issues concerning StuyActivities: “I feel like people have been aware of StuyActivities but haven't used it much. Because of the pandemic, a lot of things will have to be conducted online, which [will] make StuyActivities more relevant [and more popular].” He continued, “StuyActivities 2.0 was written from the ground up. The style and functionality have [been] changed to make it easier and more intuitive to use. I'm really happy with the fact that StuyActivities is open source, meaning that anyone can contribute to it if they'd like to. [We’re planning] on building more features, such as club posts, so look out for those in the near future!”

Attracting members, however, is just the first step for club leaders, followed by actually planning and overseeing the club. While this comes with many different challenges, one looms particularly large with the switch to remote: engagement. Online platforms are formal, with no room for side conversations, and make for a plethora of distractions. Junior and co-president of the Ethics Forum Michelle Zhang said, “Meeting online [limits] social cues and makes it harder for well-timed, professional discussion without unintentionally speaking over others.”

Communication aside, distractions are also at an all time high online. “It's really easy to stop paying attention in a Zoom meeting by scrolling through TikTok on your phone or watching Netflix,” Under Secretary General of Personnel of Model United Nations (MUN) Dunayer said. “What a lot of people don't realize is how frustrating this is for the person who is running the Zoom meeting.”

For some clubs, switching to remote means that many features of their clubs won’t be able to take place this year. “One of the greatest parts of MUN is its interactivity; the entire premise of the activity is being able to interact with people face-to-face, whether that means getting up in front of a room to speak or working with other delegates to create solutions to complex topics,” Dunayer said. “With virtual meetings, much of that interactivity and camaraderie that makes MUN special is lost.”

Senior and Research Club president Ethan Samuel-Lin agrees with this sentiment: “Labs can never truly be replicated digitally. Due to this, [we’ve] decided to shift our focus more [toward] educating our community in techniques behind research [and educating our members in] potential applications.”

The Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC) has been affected similarly; without the ability to use a theater and have in-person meetings, the entire premise of the club will be different. Junior Katherine Lake, a member of the STC slate (the governing body of the STC), said, “STC normally relies heavily on being in-person and having access to the building for productions, [so] adjusting to remote performances and scheduling will certainly be a challenge. Virtually, we hope to recreate [the] experience by having a fall/winter musical, where crews will meet through Zoom at a similar frequency to produce our first virtual show.” Lake continued, “We are [still] planning to host several exciting events every few weeks [in which we can] bond with new members and have fun.”

Michelle Zhang, junior and vice president of the engineering department for the robotics team, said, “All of our lessons will be given online in the form of presentations and video calls. In the engineering department, we plan to utilize Onshape, a computer-aided design software system that multiple people can work on at once. I’m concerned about the actual building aspect of robotics [because] the engineering department is very hands-on, [and] there are some aspects of engineering that I fear we may not be able to teach as effectively [online].”

The transition online, though difficult, has its fair share of benefits. Thanks to the multitude of digital platforms, hosting and attending meetings can be just a few clicks away. Shi noted that the screen sharing feature on Zoom has proven to be very useful. “We do love to incorporate the use of PowerPoints in our meetings, [so] being able to screen share means we can more easily convey information to members. Previously, this would not be possible, as the use of smartboards by clubs [is] not permitted,” he explained.

In addition, the accessibility of online platforms has led to a rise in attendance and meeting frequency. “More people will be able to attend [meetings as] compared to when we held in-person meetings [because] everyone has very different schedules,” shared senior Emma Donnelly, one of the founders of Project Kaleidoscope, an artistic activism club that runs an online publication blending art with social advocacy. “Now, our available time is more streamlined.”

For Donnelly and senior and co-founder Kelly Guo, going fully remote has also allowed them to grow Project Kaleidoscope outside of Stuyvesant. “We started it last summer, and we initially just created it for Stuyvesant students, but then we really wanted to expand, especially because of the increasing importance of recognizing social justice issues,” Donnelly shared. Being fully online has allowed them to do just that. “We were able to focus on how we could leverage the virtual climate to expand,” Donnelly said.

This fall won’t be easy; people will be kicked out of their Zoom rooms, club leaders will have to speak to a wall of black screens, breakout rooms won’t open, and people will start scrolling through TikTok during club meetings. Still, club leaders have to keep going, and in order to do so, they might just have to trust that their members will show up, pay attention, and make the best of the situation. While there is no doubt that the transition will be difficult, it’s one that is necessary. As Jennifer Ji said, “Clubs are a vital part of school. Extracurriculars are a way for students to blow off steam from school and [teach] students time management, commitment, and new [skills]. [They’re] a bigger part of academic life than people may realize.”