By Jaelyn Ashford
SAN MARCOS, Texas – MAR. 11, 2021 –Texas State University’s student organizations have been finding new ways to build community while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID case numbers continue to ebb and flow throughout the state, Texas State University has continued to adapt to the fallout of the pandemic. The university’s enrollment rate for the 2020-2021 school year saw a decrease of .99%, comparable to the 1.2% enrollment drops seen by rivaling state school University of Texas at Austin.
Texas State University president Denise Trauth reached out to students via email at the beginning of the pandemic detailing the university’s plans to move most classes and university events online to minimize the spread of the virus. “We must exercise care and follow precautions and best practices as we go about our daily activities on our campuses and in our communities,” Trauth said. “I recognize the tremendous responsibility we have as an institution to ensure safety measures are in place to help protect our community while we move forward with our educational and research mission.”
As campus continues to work to reopen safely, Texas State University’s Student Involvement department expressed their intentions to continue the growth of student organizations despite the changes of the upcoming school year. “This fall we’re planning a huge variety of programming options to bring Bobcats together while also keeping them safe,” student leader Brianna Mascorro explained. “We’ll have virtual, in-person and hybrid options for you to choose from. We will also be expanding options on outdoor programming.”
Student organization members on campus also felt the effects of these changes, with many of their initial events and meetings being moved online, postponed, or even cancelled. Texas State junior Kathleen Dobrott, president of co-ed theatre fraternity Alpha Psi Omega, has been rolling with the punches in order to keep the organization running despite the changes.
“We were encouraged to go all virtual just because that definitely reduces risk, so we have changed our membership meetings to all online over Zoom, which has worked and obviously has kept everybody safe,” Dobrott explained. “We do our revelations which is where you meet your big and little, and we were able to do that in person. The procedures that we had in place were that everyone had to be masked and stay socially distant. We did have to follow the rules of the building that were in place, we did have to sanitize anything that anybody touched, and we weren’t allowed to have anyone stay in the building.”
Many campus organizations also saw a decrease in membership due to the change in format of most organizations.
“For incoming pledges, we had a little bit less than we had expected.” Dobrott said. “We had about thirty-five pledges, which normally we see anywhere from forty to forty-five.”
Across campus, Texas State junior Ryan Polk expressed similar concerns with his organization, the Comedy Association. “Our membership has definitely decreased.” Polk explained. “It’s been like six people per meeting when there used to be like fifteen. I kinda miss people, you know? Because there were a lot of people who used to show up all the time who now never come. I don’t know, I guess it’s just because it’s online, people don’t want to sit down in another Zoom meeting for fun. On the flip side of that, when people do show up, they’re immediately welcomed and appreciated and there’s no chance of them slipping to the back. It’s become a lot more of a positive environment because everything’s a lot more relaxed.”
Officer and members alike have been finding new ways to build a sense of community amongst their organizations despite the distance between members. Some organizations have found themselves growing more tight-knit and cohesive as a result of the pandemic. Texas State speech team captain Ashton Rios was excited to see the way the team adapted during these historically unprecedented times. “I feel as though the team has gotten a lot closer with the hit of COVID,” Rios said. “I would also say that the team talks a lot more consistently. Beforehand, everyone just gathered everything and talked about everything when they met up, now people are always talking to each other because there’s no guarantee of when you’re going to see these people next time.”
All three organizations have been finding ways to resume their regularly scheduled events. While organizations such as the speech team moved all of their tournaments online via Zoom, Alpha Psi Omega’s officer team often faced difficulty planning events online that were traditionally in-person. “Pre-COVID, we did have more of an opportunity to have socials in person, and kind of really become a staple in the theatre department,” said Dobrott. “Post-COVID it’s a little difficult. I’d say we’re still considered a staple in the theatre department, but with not having shows in person, it does make it a little bit difficult for APO to become super involved. And of course, we are missing that in-person sense of community which I think does kind of help our pledging later on, because people get to see us having fun instead of just hearing about us having fun online.”
Some organizations such as Alpha Psi Omega have been working carefully within the university’s safety guidelines to resume some of their in-person activities. “We did just do Rogues and Renegades, which is our 24-hour play festival, and so that was kind of our first event of this semester in person,” Dobrott said. “It’s super exciting to see those shows happen, and all of the crazy things it takes to make those shows happen. Everybody did have to show proof of a negative COVID test before they were allowed into the building, then we did of course have to take their temperatures, and we asked that they sanitize their hands before entering. We filmed the shows and had a viewing after that. Following the theatre department’s guidelines, all actors did have to be masked and six feet apart and they couldn’t touch at any point during their scenes.”
In contrast, other organizations have been finding ways to get closer while staying at home.
“I definitely was one of the people that asked to have a team bonding night, and I’ve been pushing to have another one,” Rios said. “It’s just all of us getting on a Zoom call and then trying to see if we can play virtual games, like Backyard Games or Jackbox TV, or Among Us. I think that if we keep doing those team bonding nights and keep talking to each other and trying to have fun with each other no matter how distant we are or how alone that distance feels, that’ll continue bringing forth that aspect of what a ‘team’ is, and will keep building that close-knit feeling.”
Regardless of the format, organization leaders and members alike are excited to find a sense of community with their friends despite the isolation that the pandemic requires.
“If I’m ever really stressed, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and sometimes Friday, I can go hang out with my friends for an hour,” Polk said. “I think being in a student org was really helpful for fighting off loneliness, and just giving me that little blast of endorphins, serotonin, or what have you, which really helps during a global pandemic.”