One Year Later: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us About Campus Engagement
Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest public health advisories.
This has been a difficult 13 months, full of constant change and unknowns. Just over a year ago, we were reading an email from Drexel University President John Fry that would change our college trajectories, saying that we would not be continuing last spring term on campus. Little did we know how the coronavirus pandemic would come to affect the next several terms after that.
Now that we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to reflect, but even more crucial to look forward to what comes next.
You may be wondering, did I just lose a year of my college experience? The answer is no… emphatically no. The past year has exposed us to challenges and situations that generations have never had to face and has only prepared us more as a collective and as individuals for similar challenges that arise in the future. In the same vein, look at this past year as a different, yet beneficial experience.
We pivoted to a remote work and education format, resiliently answered the call to step up and serve our communities (in countless ways) and found new ways to connect with the world around us. No one can say they have had to do this before, and we should remind ourselves of the personal successes we should continually honor. We continued to take and excel in classes during terms as short as nine weeks. We found co-ops or alternative forms of work despite growing job scarcity and unemployment. We made new connections through new means and with people that we may not have before. We faced a seemingly unbelievable pandemic and we continue to make it through.
You should feel comfortable taking the time you need slow down considering what we’ve all been through over the last year, but some of you might also be chomping at the bit to get involved with your college community. So, how do you use this next year as a platform to be more engaged and involved, even though we don’t know exactly when or how things will truly go back to “normal?”
Lean on your Community as we Return
Community comes in many different forms: classes, sports, clubs, or friend groups. As we begin a path to more normalcy, begin to chart a course on how you can make connections ahead of time. Plan on what you want to do, what you want to accomplish, and what steps you’ll take to get there. This could be goals like:
- Joining a new student organization.
- Meeting an academic benchmark (i.e., increasing your GPA or completing a specified number of credits).
- Spend more time engaging with Philadelphia: go to events when safe to do so, participate in community activism, support local businesses.
- Pledge or rush a Greek Life organization.
- Take a new class or expose yourself to a new area of your major.
Honor the Challenges
Something that this past year has taught us is the need to listen to others, both in the face of social justice (or lack thereof), but also in how no two people had the same 2020.
When it comes to your pandemic experience, realize that everyone weathered the same storm, yet some had different equipment. One of our favorite analogies hammered this home: A lot of people had yachts during the pandemic, some had boats, and some simply drowned. As we return to a more “normal,” in-person setting, we need to be respectful and understanding of how those sitting next to us may have had a completely different experience than us, and how that will shape their outlook.
What does this mean for student engagement?
While we aim to return to some normalcy in coming months, the importance of community will be as necessary as ever. As student leaders, we have spent the past year creatively problem-solving with one end goal in mind: keeping our organizations engaged and active for when we come back in-person. This took a lot of unique maneuvering, both in keeping students engaged while facing real issues like Zoom fatigue, but also reassuring our members that our work on campus is not done, even if the environment shifted.
Rest assured that in this past year, campus opportunities have not decreased, they’ve just adapted to the circumstances, and we’re ready to bring them back to you in the fall or whenever deemed possible.
Some things we’ve found helpful in keeping our organizations engaged and active:
- Check in with people, even when you think you have no apparent reason to do so. Staying connected, even in small ways (i.e. wishing someone a happy birthday, a simple hello message, playing video games together, etc.), can keep you motivated and feeling less isolated.
- Try something new! Drexel (and Philadelphia) have so many opportunities and things to get involved with, even in a virtual setting. This is a perfect time to dip your toe into that thing you’ve been wondering about and see where it takes you. You can do this with your entire student org, too!
Organizations like CAB (Campus Activities Board) and DCS (Dragon Concert Series) are busy getting ready to launch more in-person programming with the relaxation of local, state, and federal guidelines. Over the past year, we have looked forward to this return, and the time is almost here!
Soon, we expect there to be unparalleled drive from students to be involved and make an impression at Drexel. Similarly, organizations such as these and many others will be looking to provide students with opportunities to grow and engage with the student body. Know that this year was a weird one, but one that has shaped our future and has compelled us to do better, be stronger, and think outside of the box.
As student leaders, we felt just as lost as you, navigating a new normal with internal members to lead yet nearly 15,000 students to serve. As a community, we stood tall knowing that student organizations and campus events needed to come back stronger than ever, and prepared to serve those that struggled this past year. We took what we were given in these circumstances and we made it work — we believe the Drexel community has made and will continue to make this next year the most supportive, inclusive, and involved yet.
We need that. We need time for us to lean on each other for support, for guidance, for community. You can play a role in that, and it begins today.
Christian Maxey, BS business administration, operations and supply chain management, organizational management ’21, recently served as president of Drexel’s Campus Activities Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maxwell Nash is a junior entertainment arts management major, and currently serves as president of Drexel Concert Series (DCS) and as director of traditions on Campus Activities Board (CAB). He can be reached at email@example.com.