Festifall goes online in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Tuesday, September 1, 2020 - 4:02pm

The first day of Festifall, the largest gathering of student clubs and organizations, was hosted virtually Sunday afternoon.

The first day of Festifall, the largest gathering of student clubs and organizations, was hosted virtually Sunday afternoon. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Each fall at the University of Michigan, people representing different student organizations fill the Diag and Ingalls Mall, waving flyers at frantic freshmen to recruit them. This hectic, classic phenomenon is Festifall — and this year, due to COVID-19, it’s online.

The Center for Campus Involvement hosted the first day of Festifall 2020 on Sunday, with some students noting the awkwardness of meeting people for the first time over Zoom while others highlighted the ease of access. The second is scheduled for Friday.

LSA freshman Tess Klygis said the virtual format made interacting with club members easier in some cases and uncomfortable in others.

“It was like a drop-in situation so that made it a little bit easier. It was a little awkward to leave meetings, but still, it was a nice place to ask questions,” Klygis said. “I feel like that could get tricky in an in-person setting, so in that kind of way, the virtual option helped because you could type things into a chat or (if it was in-person) you would have to talk over people.”

According to the Center for Campus Involvement, more than 630 organizations registered to participate and there were more than 1,000 unique visitors on the first day.

Students could apply filters based on the size of the organization or the level of time commitment, among other factors. Each organization had a virtual “drop-in” room that students could enter to video chat with club members.

Freshmen were sent an email from the University about the time and location of Festifall. LSA and Information senior Nina Janies, president of Theme Park Engineering Group, a student organization that exposes members to roller coaster design, said difficulty advertising affected turnout at Festifall this year. 

“I think Festifall is really important because it’s kind of the only place where many people find out about clubs, just because Maize Pages is not the best website for finding clubs,” Janies said. “I think the fact that this year it wasn’t maybe as much advertised is kind of a little bit detrimental especially since we’re at home, there’s no way to find out about clubs.” 

According to Engineering freshman Atul Gera, who attended Festifall on Sunday, at most there were about 10 students in a single room at a time. He also noted that beyond Festifall, the virtual format marks a shift in how organizations operate. 

“Clubs are a little more accessible now because most of them are virtual and they don’t have any strict attendance policy, at least the ones I looked into,” Gera said. “They’re more, like, you drop in to some of the webinars, learn a couple of things, and then if you want to join a team you can for a project.” 

Janies said the pandemic forced her club to adapt its outreach efforts.

“We do a lot of traveling and competitions, and those aren’t happening, so the stuff we did was planning basically what to say before the event,” Janies said. “We’re obviously not gonna do all the stuff we did before but we still want to tell people about that. But then also we want to make sure we plan on saying: this is what we plan on doing differently this year.”

The virtual format presented some new benefits as well, according to Janies.

“We didn’t have to do the spiel all the time because our website was listed and our little paragraph was listed,” Janies said. “So people who may not be comfortable coming to talk to us could sign up without talking to us.” 

When talking about whether she felt engaged with organizations on campus, Klygis expressed enthusiasm about her involvement for the upcoming semester. 

“I’m very excited to be a part of the Michigan community in general,” Klygis said. “And I’m definitely excited to find my group on campus, and find a group of people who have similar interests as me and are passionate about the same things outside of class.”

Daily Staff Reporter Sunskriti Paranjape can be reached at sunspara@umich.edu.