Campus life may look a little different this semester as Clark University students go through the academic year wearing face masks and following the protocols for keeping the community safe and healthy. But being socially distanced doesn’t mean undergraduates can’t also stay connected.
Despite limitations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Danielle Morgan Acosta, associate dean of students for student engagement, says Clarkies are taking advantage of the University’s involvement network. Whether clubs and organizations are meeting over Zoom or gathering outdoors (within appropriate distances, of course), students are staying engaged.
“Clarkies are innovative and creative, and they’ve really led the programming that exists on campus,” Acosta says. “Students are still hanging out in the lounges with masks on, they’re still playing Frisbee on the Green, they’re still having late-night conversations, they are making new friends and meeting up for food from the dining hall. I’ve been impressed with the participation in virtual events, and in-person events as well.”
Noah Deener-Agus ’22 is among the student leaders helping the campus community stay active during this historic semester. As president of Clark’s Outing Club, he’s planned a range of socially distanced events — including a campfire and several local hikes — with precautions. “The students have really enjoyed the events so far,” he says. “What made me more comfortable was that everyone has been very good about wearing masks.”
About 30 students recently hiked from the nearby Hadwen Arboretum to Coes Reservoir, getting off campus to safely explore Worcester’s green spaces. “Being in the outdoors always means that one needs to be vigilant and mitigate risks, so using the same principles and spirit in dealing with COVID comes naturally,” Deener-Agus says.
The Clark University Film Screening Society has organized several outdoor movies on the Green, Clark Wellness Education is leading regular outdoor guided relaxation and yoga sessions, and administrators are working on some creative solutions for outdoor spaces as the temperatures cool, according to Acosta.
“Our student groups and clubs are doing a good job of trying to reach out to people in a lot of different ways,” she says. “They’re posting on social media and promoting their meetings. More in-person events will start to happen, but for a lot of board meetings, people are learning those don’t have to happen in the same physical space.”
For the Clark Investment and Trading Society, shifting to a virtual format has proven to be advantageous.
The student-run organization holds an online Fireside Chat Interview Series featuring notable alumni and professionals in the finance industry. A recent event, held over Zoom, included a conversation with former NFL tight end and real estate investor Hakeem Valles. The group will host an upcoming discussion with nationally known legal analyst and executive coach Heather Hansen.
President Parker Freedman ’21 says the club has doubled its number of monthly events compared to last year and attracted a broader audience from the campus community thanks to the virtual format.
“This year we’ve had a really strong turnout,” he says.
The Investment and Trading Society also holds a weekly Market Talk session led by experienced e-board members that covers financial basics and the stock market. Freedman hopes to make the weekly event a hybrid of in-person and virtual sessions, as some information is best conveyed in a classroom setting.
Clark Engage, the University’s portal for clubs and organizations, has also opened new doors for student-run groups on campus.
The revamped website allows clubs and organizations to connect with prospective members and post upcoming events for the Clark community to explore. Freedman says the portal allowed his club to reach students who might not have otherwise heard of the organization. “Being able to go on our Clark Engage page and look at our events is bringing out a broad group of people rather than just students who are totally focused on finance,” he says.
Other campus organizations have also launched series of online events and spaces, including Multicultural and First Generation Student Support’s affinity groups, intramural esports leagues, and well-being workshops from the Center for Counseling and Personal Growth, among many others.
For Clark University Hillel, the fall semester presented an opportunity to get especially creative. Each week, the Jewish student organization puts together “Shabbags” filled with essentials for the Sabbath.
Executive Director Jeff Narod says a diverse group of students has traditionally gathered on campus each Friday evening to eat a kosher meal, and discuss current events. This semester, Clark U Hillel is conducting those meetings remotely and handing out meals to go, as well as Shabbat bags that include items such as a red Clark U kippa (head covering), and a printed version of Shabbat traditions.
“Gathering together on Zoom before the Sabbath arrives creates a chance for students to schmooze, meet new friends and connect with old ones, hear the blessings on the challah (braided Sabbath bread), and participate in the blessing of the wine,” he says. “Later they join ‘together’ to eat the meal, whose menu was chosen earlier that week by student leaders.”
As the semester progresses and community members continue to adhere to the Clark Commitment, Acosta says she expects the number of closely regulated in-person events to increase on campus.
“We’re energetic about the opportunities that are going to continue to evolve and develop as we get a sense of the world in which we’re operating,” she says. “The energy students are bringing is being felt in many ways.”