More than 1,000 clubs and student organizations make up the UF community – and most had Fall semester plans derailed.
To keep members safe, but still together, many have introduced online components to general body meetings and socials. The Asian American Student Association has already hosted Zoom club meetings as well as in-person events that adhere toUF COVID-19 guidelines, in an effort to attract new and old members, said Zachary Raad, co-president.
Before the pandemic, AASU would host monthly general body meetings and bigger events with up to 400 people at a time. But now, the executive board is figuring out how to motivate people’s engagement and sense of community without meeting in-person, said Raad, 20-year-old UF chemistry and Chinese senior.
“I think it’s really a critical time for us to reflect on what our purpose as an organization is and how even within a pandemic, AASU can still be strong,” Raad said.
Raad said AASU, an umbrella organization that educates about and advocates for UF Asian American and Asian students, and most of its affiliated organizations, like the Chinese American Student Association and the Vietnamese Student Organization are trying to adopt a hybrid modality for the semester.
A total 170 people attended the informative portion of AASU’s first general body meeting that was held over Zoom on Tuesday, Raad said. Later the same day, about 80 people attended a social-distancing food giveaway at Turlington Plaza.
Raad said people had to wear masks and practice social distancing. Student organizers were providing hand sanitizer, too, and to minimize food-people contact, the restaurant Zeezenia portioned the food in advance so that people would only grab their own.
“AASU can still be strong,” Raad said. “We're still able to have the same community as always.”
On the other hand, the Hispanic Student Association, who aims to serve and represent the Hispanic-Latinx community, has decided to host all events virtually for now. The exception is if they collaborate with an organization that hosts a hybrid or in-person event, according to its “INNOVANDO” Initiative.
Caterina Patriarca, HSA vice president of communications, said the organizations’ leaders prioritize the health of its members and don’t want to put students at risk. A total of 130 students attended HSA’s first general body meeting of the semester on Zoom on Thursday.
“GBMs always makes me smile,” Patriarca, a 20-year-old biology and psychology junior, said. “It doesn't matter if it’s online or in-person.”
Student organizers like Philip Smith, president of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative student organization at UF, plans to host at least five general body meetings in person, and said that the virtual meeting experience is not as community oriented.
Indoor events are limited to a 50-person maximum capacity and outdoor events are allowed a 250-person maximum capacity, according to UF student activities and event guidelines.
“Virtual events, while they have purpose and they serve a function, they are quite obviously not as community oriented,” said Smith, a 22-year-old UF agriculture operations management senior.
YAF hosted its fourth annual 9/11 Never Forget Project on Friday, which involved dispersing 2,977 small American flags across the Plaza of the Americas to commemorate the American lives lost during the terrorist attacks. The event included tabling where they explained the display and attracted about 20 people throughout the day. Smith said this was one of their best years so far.
Barry Chandler Jr., 31, UF Navigators director, and Laura Karlin, 33, associate UF Navigators director, said they are adapting and planning this semester one month at a time.
UF Navigators is part of the Navigators, an international Christian ministry. It has adapted 250-person events into “micro events” to help foster human connections through activities such as disc golf, watercolors, arts and crafts, spike ball and kick ball in groups of about 10 to 25 people, Chandler said.
All participants at UF Navigators microevents need to wear a mask, practice social distancing and provide personal information in case contact tracing is needed, Chandler added.
“COVID has given us the opportunity to innovate and do something different,” he said.
Karlin said they have been approaching people on campus following UF guidelines. Their first big event was held both online and in-person at the City Light Church. About 30 people attended physically and more than 100 joined their livestream, Chandler said.
All organizations are required to collect the full name, phone number and email address of all attendees, in order to aid with contact tracing, according to UF and UF Health. Contact tracing enables UF Health to conduct a public health follow-up, in case a student tests positive for COVID-19, according to the UF event planning and safety guide.
If a member contracts COVID-19, all members attending the event will be informed.
The month of October is Islam Appreciation month, where the student organization Islam on Campus hosts their annual Fast-A-Thon, an event that filled 640 seats in the O’ Connell Center in 2019. Due to COVID-19, Fast-A-Thon has been postponed until the spring semester.
Yasin Adam, 20-year-old UF applied physiology and kinesiology junior, has been an IOC member since freshman year. Now the vice president of external affairs, he said that the majority of their events will be held virtually.
At the organization’s Sept. 5 barbecue social, servers were required to wear gloves, students were required to social distance while eating and hand sanitizer dispensers were used frequently, said Mohammed Taha, the brother coordinator. The brother coordinator brings the Gainesville Muslim community together. About 20 students attended.
Adam said that the risk of contracting COVID-19 at an event is the same as the everyday risk, but aims to take the necessary steps, like wearing a face mask, to prevent the spread.
“There's always a little worry, even when I go out of my apartment and there's someone walking through, there is the risk of me catching COVID,” Adam said. “It's just about mitigating the risk and lowering the risk as much as humanly possible.”