Student organizations at Miami University are planning to meet in person this semester despite encouragement from the administration to hold virtual meetings when possible.
“If you are part of a student organization or planning an event through an office or department, we encourage you to plan for virtual and hybrid options when possible,” the COVID Response Team wrote in an email on Jan. 12.
While the university has discouraged professors from moving in-person classes to a virtual option, instead promoting masks and social distancing, its stance on extracurriculars differs.
Kimberly Vance, director of Student Life, urged student organizations to consider students not comfortable with in-person meetings.
“What we’ve said is kind of what we said last semester, which is to encourage students to think about the fact that some people may not feel comfortable coming back in person,” Vance said. “If it works to have a virtual option, do it.”
Despite encouragement to provide students with virtual or hybrid meeting options, Vance understands the greater accessibility in-person meetings provide students attempting to join new organizations, citing the decision to hold Mega Fair in person this spring.
“Everybody has signed up and wants to participate in Mega Fair,” Vance said. “And they do not want to do that virtually … but [if] they happen to test positive the night before Mega Fair, we don’t want them to come. So that group needs to be diligent about providing another way.”
Regardless of if student organizations choose to meet virtually or in person, Vance hopes students consider all perspectives when making plans for the spring semester.
“Just be thoughtful,” Vance said. “If you’re sick, don’t participate. Test yourself if you’re concerned, or sign up to get tested.”
Some student organizations cannot modify meetings for a virtual format.
Trent James, a senior biology and premedical studies double major and co-president of the club gymnastics team, has worked to provide members with other socially distanced options.
“There’s not really any way that we can do it,” James said. “I know a couple people still use their home gyms and are close enough to commute, but regardless you have to go into a gym either way.”
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Though the team worked around past COVID guidelines, the majority of members are itching to continue with business as usual.
“People are a lot happier [meeting in person] especially people that were on the team before,” James said. “They definitely felt that lack of motivation to practice because there was nothing we were practicing for.”
Delaney Ross-Shannon, a senior history major and co-president of the club gymnastics team, hopes that returning to in-person practices will provide the team with a camaraderie missing during the pandemic.
“Everyone’s really excited about being in person,” Ross-Shannon said. “Two years ago, when we were all sent home, it was really hard to be a team…freshmen and sophomores didn’t leave their dorms. I think doing this in person allows people to make other friends.”
Ross-Shannon hopes the university follows suit.
“I think if you can meet in person, that is the best,” Ross-Shannon said. “College is where you make your closest friends, so I think it’s really important to encourage [friendships].”
Sarah Marsh, inclusive special education major and president of Best Buddies, which pairs college students with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Butler County, knows all too well the limitations of virtual meetings.
“We are a social organization, not a service learning organization or a volunteer organization,” Marsh said. “As the rest of the world knows, it’s incredibly hard to socialize online. Our club really thrives on personal connections, and getting to hug people and talk to people.”
Marsh also urges people to consider the isolation felt by members of vulnerable communities, and the impact of in-person gatherings.
“For us, [COVID] was a really shocking experience that made us think about social connection and what it means to be close to people,” Marsh said. “But for people with disabilities … a lot of them live their life like that, in social isolation and unable to do the things they want to do without help from others. Now that that has become a universal experience, it’s really pushed us to advocate for, especially within the health and safety guidelines, in-person events.”