Clubs have lost their in-person chats, debates and socials, but for some, the virtual format has made joining more accessible and engaging.
A few weeks after the mid-September ClubFest, clubs are holding virtual meetings, applicant interviews and working toward their goals — without the hand shaking and Net ID swapping of Barton Hall recruitment.
For the Cornell Political Union, rethinking recruitment and club programs has brought both negatives and positives.
This year’s recruits have been much more committed and interested in the organization compared to previous recruitment cycles, according to CPU President Henry Lavacude-Cola ’22.
“In previous semesters when we did in-person recruitment, we saw a bunch of applications, but not everyone shows up for interviews, not everyone shows up for info sessions, not everybody shows up for tryouts,” Lavacude-Cola said. “This time, we saw fewer applications … but we’re seeing more continued interest.”
CPU usually hosts speakers and holds debates — which can be contentious and potentially uncomfortable for new members. As a result, the group, which has moved all programming online, still craves in-person meetings that can make these sorts of exchanges more natural.
“Obviously, we’d love to do stuff like meeting in-person so you can see somebody face to face,” Lavacude-Cola said. “These are the ways you engage with individuals, especially in an organization where sometimes it’s kind of scary to get up and talk to a bunch of people about your thoughts on a political issue.”
Virtual recruitment also allows students and club leaders more one-on-one time. Raghav Inder ’23 joined Energy at Cornell through the virtual ClubFest, and said he was glad to have more in-depth conversations with club leaders in Zoom breakout rooms, compared to the usual Barton Hall chaos.
“During the actual real-live ClubFest, it was like you were fighting for them to talk to you,” Inder said.
Other participating clubs similarly found advantages in virtual ClubFest. Bianca Murillo ’20, president of Alternative Breaks, said that while in-person ClubFest can be loud and overwhelming, the virtual nature of the Zoom breakout rooms “really gave us the opportunity to talk in-depth about the issues we were interested in.”
Alternative Breaks focuses on social justice advocacy and education, and culminates in an annual spring break group service trip. Though the club is still active, its trip has been canceled this year due to COVID-related safety concerns.
For Cornell Votes, the virtual format made joining the group more accessible across class years, even more important as the non-partisan campaign works to increase voter registration, turnout and civic engagement on campus.
“A junior walking into Barton Hall is a bit more intimidating and a bit more out of the norm,” said Dana Karami ’23, vice president of operations. She said she thought that a decreased stigma around the virtual ClubFest allowed upperclassmen — not just first-years — to feel comfortable joining.
The format expanded the reach for a group that didn’t exist before July, when it first launched its campaign.
“All the data [collected] was really helpful,” said Cornell Votes President Patrick Mehler ’23. “A lot of people pressed the interested button, but didn’t come into the live room. We were able to send emails to everyone that pressed the button and a good chunk of people filled out applications. If it were at Barton Hall, writing down everyone’s Net ID could be a bit of a mess.”
Keeping events virtual for the rest of the semester also allows Cornell Votes to include members who didn’t return to Ithaca. Now, they’re rethinking civic engagement work, which traditionally happens in-person.
The online format also means reimagining outreach work for the Ithaca Health Initiative, which partners with local schools, after-school programs and other youth programs to give presentations about health education. This year, their goals have shifted to creating educational videos.
This ClubFest was wildly successful for the group — initially hoping to attract 15 to 20 new members, about 80 students registered for their first information session and around 40 attended the session, according to outreach chair Angella Lee ’23 and vice president Victoria Tian ’22.
Lee primarily credited this turnout to Zoom.
“When the info session is at 7 o’clock at night, to get yourself out of your house, out of your dorm, can be kind of demotivating,” Lee said. “For people just having to sign onto Zoom for a quick info session was a lot more time efficient for everybody.”
This year, the club hopes to focus on mental health education — about half of the applicants said they were interested in the topic.
For Lee, the group is thinking: “How do you take care of yourself during a time when everything is online? How do you take care of yourself when all of your meetings and classes are on Zoom?”