The University of Michigan is home to more than 1,700 student-run organizations for students to join. Following a completely virtual year, many of these student organizations are now returning to in-person events, similar to pre-pandemic life. Others, however, are reaping the benefits of continuing with a flexible virtual or hybrid format.
The Michigan Daily spoke to five leaders and members of student organizations to learn how they are adjusting to being in-person or choosing to stay virtual as the new semester begins.
Pre-pandemic life and the shift to a virtual format
Caiden Baxter, LSA Junior and member of the Adaptive Sports Student Interest Group, an organization assisting those with and without disabilities in physical fitness opportunities and increasing awareness of adaptive sports, explained that the group heavily relies on in-person interaction.
“Being so closely tied to physical activity and sports, pre-COVID our events were almost entirely held in person,” Baxter wrote. “During the shift to a remote format, our organization had time to reassess our plans for when the campus reopened. We also worked with the (Adaptive Sports and Fitness) program to develop an accessible online physical fitness program for at-home use.”
LSA senior Lydia Goff, co-president of Best Buddies, shared that both their weekly meetings and monthly in-person community events were impacted by the pandemic. Best Buddies is an organization that matches University students to an adult with intellectual or developmental disabilities and hosts monthly events to build friendships and relationships.
In an email to The Daily, Goff wrote holding events for Best Buddies is significantly more difficult when done online, but the rewards can also be greater. Depending on the comfort level of members with getting together with their buddies, Goff wrote that contact in friendships was mostly virtual or socially distanced.
“COVID helped reinforce the importance of friendship and inclusion in our members, as social isolation touched all of our lives,” Goff wrote. “I think college buddies especially got a better understanding of how significant a simple phone call or texting conversation can be to both them and their buddies.”
Doctors of Tomorrow is a partnership between the Medical School and two Detroit high schools — Class Technical High School and Marygrove High School — serving as a channel for medical students to assist high schoolers and increase their involvement in the medical community. The organization previously met completely in person, with high school students visiting the Medical School at least once a month.
Medical School student Natalie Guzman, director of programming for Doctors of Tomorrow, explained that her role in the organization was significantly affected by the pandemic.
“A big reason that I got involved with Doctors of Tomorrow was because I wanted to actually interact with students and serve as a mentor,” Guzman said. “But because of the virtual nature of everything, my role was slightly more administrative in terms of finding speakers, organizing small groups, things like that. I think if we were in-person I’d be able to interact with the students more.”
Deciding whether to return to in-person events and looking toward the future
With some classes still in a virtual or hybrid format, many clubs and organizations are seeing benefits from continuing to meet virtually.
Public Health and Social Work student Brandon Bond, president of the Public Health Student Assembly, explained the organization has advanced in a virtual format, despite the pandemic.
“I believe many of us are fully vaccinated and COVID-19 cautious, however with a board of our size it is easier and more convenient to hold our meetings virtually,” Bond wrote. “With the protocols of the university and potential change of guidelines, meeting virtually helps avoid all of that (confusion).”
Guzman said Doctors of Tomorrow was able to work with more students during the pandemic, a benefit of the virtual format.
“Hopefully going forward we can do a hybrid type situation, in terms of getting to interact with students in person but also (maintaining) the pros of the virtual world,” Guzman said.
Though Baxter wrote the Adaptive Sports Student Interest Group was able to reach a wider audience of participants with a virtual format, he wrote they were eager to return to meeting and collaborating in person as soon as possible.
“We hope to continue to spread awareness of … adaptive sports, as well as increase the variety of the programming we offer,” Baxter wrote.
Goff said that Best Buddies is looking forward to their first in-person event at the end of the month and they hope to expand their organization to include more buddies.
“Once my buddy and I were vaccinated, we took advantage right away of the opportunity to get lunch together indoors without masks — something we had not been able to do for over a year,” Goff said. “This year, I’m hoping our organization can continue to grow its impact. … I’m hoping that we can expand our overall outreach and become a more familiar name in the Ann Arbor community.”
Recruitment during a virtual year
Because Festifall, a student organization recruiting fair, was held in person this semester, many organizations found recruiting to be easier than when it was done virtually.
Goff wrote the event was an immense help for recruiting many new students.
“We’ve had a huge surge in prospective college buddies and have been overwhelmed by their excitement,” Goff wrote. “I think Festifall definitely helped us attract more members, as well as our social media platforms. Many college buddies choose to join Best Buddies after doing it in high school so that always gives us a solid membership base.”
Baxter echoed this statement, saying the Adaptive Sports Student Interest Group is eager to return to in-person programming with many new members.
“Recruiting members this year has been significantly easier than the virtual school year because so much of our programming has returned,” Baxter wrote. “We are excited to get people out and playing sports again.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.