Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Contrary to the sea of students that were known to swarm Barton Hall at Cornell's Clubfest, this year's student organizational recruitment are taking a COVID-19-based virtual turn.

September 30, 2020

Through Zoom Coffee Chats and Auditions, Clubs Adapt to Virtual Reality

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Typically, come 5 o’clock, students flood into various lecture halls to attend G-body meetings and info sessions for student organizations. Now, they do it all from their bedrooms.

With Cornell’s annual ClubFest gone virtual, the inability to host in-person meetings has complicated the race to recruit new members in the face of COVID-19. Clubs have adapted the structure to their meetings and recruitment process, although in the end it isn’t the same as being in person.

Lilly Howes ’21, public relations chair for pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, said that the fraternity had to implement many changes this semester. As opposed to simply transitioning its previous recruitment process to a virtual setting, PAD has altered the structure of its interview process as well.

In previous years, Howes said that applicants would go through one or two personal interviews. Now, each applicant is assigned a category — whether that is logic games or informal debates — and is given the opportunity to interact with brothers in a smaller setting.

“We’ve restructured to make it more fun and immersive because being online takes away some of the fun aspects of it,” Howes said. “We’ve been introducing these new categories that hopefully will liven up the recruitment process.”

Though the virtual transition was expected, planning for it came with its fair share of challenges for executive board members across many organizations. According to Howes, PAD worked to revamp its social media and online presence to spread the word about its organization, since word-of-mouth advertising was simply not an option anymore.

“It’s been, not stressful, but a little overwhelming. A lot of communicating on Zoom, a lot of text messages coming in, a lot of Google docs and Google spreadsheets and a lot of things to keep track of,” Howes said.

Jessica Velesaca ’22, serves as the outreach chair for the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program Ambassadors program. The program, run through the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, is designed to facilitate the high school to college transition for incoming first-years. Though HEOP typically runs in-person orientation sessions for its incoming class, the program has switched to a virtual format for this semester.

“One of the unexpected challenges was trying to build a community for the freshmen, especially since they don’t know anyone at all, and for the people who aren’t on campus, trying to build a community for them,” Velesaca said. “It’s a bit harder to get them involved with the resources if they can’t engage.”

Performing groups have been especially affected by these changes in operation. Cornell Sitara, a Bollywood-fusion dance team, decided early on that it was going to be completely virtual for the fall.

“We began planning before the school came out with all the information about how being on campus would be like, but even before that we knew we weren’t comfortable having in person events and practices because of the nature of dance and how big our team is,” said Nabiha Zaman ’23, who is Cornell Sitara’s publicity chair.

Cornell Sitara, which is currently in the midst of its tryout process, added resources to make tryouts less stressful for potential new members, including holding its beginning-of-year dance workshop through Zoom. Since all the competitions were either canceled or went virtual, Zaman sees this as a time to focus on team bonding, technique and improving their craft.

For first-years going through the audition process, navigating virtual auditions has been a learning experience. Maya Zamor ’24, has auditioned for three a cappella groups since her arrival on campus. Though she’s never done an audition through Zoom, she has found the process to be a generally positive one.

“The virtual part of it has helped all of us because you don’t feel as nervous because although you’re face-to-face, you’re not literally face to face and you can choose what location you want it to be in,” Zamor said.

Jonathan Li ’24 expressed similar positive sentiments, but acknowledged some downfalls of the virtual setting. Li is currently rushing for Phi Delta Epsilon, Cornell’s pre-medical fraternity and auditioning for E.Motion, one of Cornell’s K-pop dance teams.

Howes and Zaman emphasized that though this is not an ideal situation, their organizations are committed to continuing virtually until it’s safe to return to normal. For Zamor, she is simply grateful for the opportunity to audition and appreciates the efforts made to accommodate everyone.

Despite this, Li has found himself enjoying the clubs he’s participating in and is thankful for an additional avenue to meet fellow Cornellians — even if it is online.

“I think the virtualness hinders connection. Some Zoom meetings have 100, 200 people, and some people have their cameras off so there are no faces to recognize,” Li said. “In that way, virtualness is hindering clubs from being the most effective they can be compared to in-person.”