In past semesters, members of the Georgetown Parliamentary Debate Team spent their evenings practicing in windowless ICC classrooms before trouncing their opponents at tournaments across the country.
This semester, they have had to adjust their operations. Their debate tournaments, as well as all their practices, will be held virtually, causing GPD President Cindy Wang (SFS ’21) to worry that it may be hard to sustain student engagement and build a tightly knit cohort of debaters. However, new students seem eager to join the club; the team saw a 30% increase in membership this fall.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is how to keep our members around and foster the same environment we would have with in-person physical interaction, because that historically has been a really important part for us to bond as a community,” Wang told The Hoya in a Zoom interview.
Because the semester is fully virtual, many Georgetown clubs are developing new ways to bring on new members and sustain club activities. Many have seen surprising increases in student involvement since the Council of Advisory Boards Fair at the beginning of the month.
Many clubs are focusing on creating methods to improve Zoom fatigue, a phrase of the times describing the adverse effects of excessive screen time on physical and psychological health.
H*yas For Choice, a group that advocates for reproductive justice and provides contraceptives to students, recognizes the toll the virtual environment can take on members, according to Vice President Rachel Harris (COL ’21).
“When meeting, learning, or doing advocacy work through a virtual forum, it is inherently impersonal and isolating,” Harris wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are trying to mitigate these issues by meeting with each of our advocacy team members one on one to check in and provide support in any way we can.”
H*yas for Choice is also taking steps to combat Zoom fatigue by keeping meetings to an hour length, hosting smaller, more personal discussions, and keeping members engaged on GroupMe, Harris wrote.
Despite the virtual setting, Harris has witnessed energetic engagement and commitment from its members.
“Honestly, I have been surprised by the willingness and dedication of individuals for involvement. Virtual learning environments are extremely draining, and to see that individuals are still invigorated about advocating for reproductive and sexual wellness is keeping me hopeful and inspired this semester,” Harris wrote.
Hoya Blue, the student fan section for Georgetown’s sports teams, has already implemented new virtual club activities to help members stay engaged and get to know each other, according to Vice President Lauren Pyjar (SFS ’21).
“We did a virtual trivia night last week, and then this coming week we are doing speed dating, which is kinda fun — not like actually dating — but just one-on-one two-minute conversations over Zoom just to get to know people,” Pyjar said in an interview with The Hoya. “Coming up, I think we are going to do once a week or every other week group watches of old games”
Though new students are eager to engage with club life, club members face significant geographical and technological barriers to participating in club life.
Freshman Wenyu Zhu (COL ’24), who lives in China, has found it difficult to engage in club activities late into the night.
“For me, the virtual environment is mainly difficult for my 12-hour time difference,” Zhu wrote in an email to The Hoya. “As an international student, I only have limited choices regarding time difference, but if I decide to stay up, my body doesn’t allow me to be engaged at that time.”
Although there have been some challenges with joining clubs virtually, clubs remain an active presence in student life.
Some students, like freshman Mehek Thapar (COL ’24), who has already joined GU Jawani, Mask and Bauble, and Hoya Blue, among others, have immersed themselves in club life.
“I am a person who really likes to stay busy, and I love that there are so many club events happening and that I can already get involved,” Thapar wrote in an email to The Hoya. “These clubs have definitely been my main social interaction, and a lot of them are focusing more on community building and bonding in the fall, which is nice, especially for a virtual semester where it’s so hard to get to know people.”