by Noah Kotlarek
From the time the coronavirus first reached New York nearly a year ago, the pandemic was never conducive to student involvement, particularly to student clubs. This fact has only been exacerbated by the recent rise in cases at Rose Hill and the resulting two-week suspension of in-person activities. This article examines two clubs from different disciplines to identify the challenges they are facing and uncover the strategies they’re employing to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on club health.
One club, Fordham Experimental Theater (FET), which includes Sketch, Stand-up comedy, Poetry, and Improv, has had to be especially adaptive. Last semester and earlier this semester (before the two-week mandate), the club hosted successful live performances but had to adapt— requiring performers and audience members to wear masks, social distance, relocate from Collins Hall to Keating, and reserve seats in advance on Eventbrite to facilitate limited attendance. This semester presents newer and arguably more difficult challenges. As part of the club’s normal operations, FET is in the middle of recruiting and holding auditions for new members. These auditions are usually held in-person in Collins Hall’s fabled “black box” theater. Given the current COVID-19 restrictions, however, auditions must be held virtually. Jay Izzo, junior and Captain of Sketch, says holding auditions over Zoom simply isn’t the same. According to Izzo, stage presence, an integral part of the performing arts, is much harder to predict when the candidate isn’t on stage but rather on a computer screen. Sketch pieces will also be made and adapted for the virtual format.
This virtual environment may not be all bad though. The club’s most recent Instagram post encourages playwrights to “experiment with the limitations and opportunities of technology” when writing their scripts. Challenging times like these can stimulate innovation. Fortunately for FET, the club has been able to attract new members through word-of-mouth. This semester’s class of new members consists largely of sophomores but freshmen will also need to be tapped for the Fall. The club plans to reach virtual audience members by recording and sharing video performances as well as holding Instagram live sessions.
Now, let’s take a look at another student club and see how they are operating in the pandemic. FUEMS, Fordham’s student-run EMS agency, will see the graduation of many of its dedicated and essential senior leaders. Filling these soon to be empty roles, while not impossible, is complicated by the nature of the club and its requirements for leadership. Though the club has non-EMT members, those who wish to advance to leadership positions should become EMTs. This process is not short. First, students must complete a semester-long course, now conducted in a hybrid format, to become NY-State licensed EMT-B’s. Licensure guarantees the student at least one EMT shift per month where they will assist on calls, take patient vitals, and gain hands-on experience. However, many of the positions that need to be filled once the seniors graduate require additional and significant time, experience, and training on top of licensure. These positions include ambulance driver and crew chief. For some administrative roles, EMT licensure alone is sufficient.
To fill these roles, FUEMS has taken steps to increase the number of underclassmen who don’t just complete the EMT course but also go on to take the leadership roles needed for the agency to function. Beyond adjusting the number of hours of experience required to become a crew chief, FUEMS has also introduced a one-on-one mentorship program that pairs prospective crew chiefs with the most experienced crew chiefs in the club. This initiative is designed to help mentees become more involved and provide them with a resource for their questions.
Usemma Khan, the Director of FUEMS, believes that the organization has “bloomed” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization is very much alive. Underclassmen have signed up for the EMT course and FUEMS members are taking an active role in the University’s COVID-19 prevention efforts by staffing the testing center. Khan says that over the winter break nearly all of the active members who would be returning to campus volunteered to maintain their active roles in the club despite the pandemic.
The ongoing pandemic has taken away much of the social aspect that has made student clubs so enjoyable. It has achieved this by reducing in-person activities, which allowed for until now taken-for-granted side conversation, to Zoom calls; decreasing university enrollment and thus the body of freshmen to draw members from; and separating on-campus from off-campus students. These unfortunate truths are easy to get bogged down in. But we must resist. Instead we should preserve and use this time to experiment and try new approaches. Clubs that can operate virtually should and should do so wholeheartedly. Interestingly, just when clubs become harder to maintain, they become all the more important in this time of isolation and need for socialization.