Updated: April 1, 2020 at 1:40 p.m.
Student leaders are using conference calls and group messages to communicate with group members as students end the rest of the semester online.
Officials shifted all classes online starting after Spring Break to protect community members from the COVID-19 outbreak. Student organization leaders said they are communicating with members through chat platforms like FaceTime and email listservs to reschedule events like performances and executive board elections, hold meetings and generally check in on one another.
Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency and public health emergency March 11, leading officials to limit gatherings of more than 100 people – then prompting officials to cancel all student organization events and public gatherings.
John Olds, the chair of College Republicans, said the organization’s e-board will meet virtually every week to discuss organization updates and hold group activities, like a “Netflix hangout” movie night and e-board elections. He said College Republicans members will vote from April 7 to 9, using Google forms through their email addresses instead of paper ballots like previous years.
“Obviously, it’s not going to be perfect, but we’re not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, I guess is that saying,” Olds said. “We’re going to try and do the best we can.”
He said the organization canceled its internship fair originally scheduled for March 11 and its spring speaker event with Charlotte Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s daughter. Olds said the next e-board will decide whether to make up the events, but he suggests pushing the internship fair to the fall and adding more speaker events than usual next semester.
“It’s not really my decision, but I can tell you if I were chair next year, I would definitely try to bolster our fall program, just because we’ve missed the second half of the spring this year,” he said.
Keith Nagy, the president of GW College Democrats, said the organization canceled the Soul Food Hour, an event for students to write letters to SafeRide staff, which was organized with GW’s chapter of the NAACP. The organization also called off a series of Green Week events that raise awareness for environmental justice.
College Democrats’ leaders moved the group’s e-board elections online as well for their upcoming elections, Nagy said.
He added that the organization will rely on its email listserv and social media accounts to update more than 100 members in the organization on remote opportunities like virtual phone banking for the Democratic primary elections.
“I remain optimistic that this will not hinder our efforts this fall to take back the White House and flip the Senate blue,” Nagy said in an email. “There is a lot we can all do in this period of uncertainty.”
Rabbi Daniel Novick, GW Hillel’s assistant director, said GW Hillel’s leadership shut down annual events like Passover seders and IsraelFest, which celebrates Israeli culture. Novick said Hillel leaders are adjusting to Zoom conference calls through which the organization will continue Jewish learning fellowships, a 10-week seminar about Judaism.
“The hardest part will be not seeing our students in person and having everyone on a different schedule and timeline,” he said.
GW Hillel updated its events calendar to include virtual discussion sessions like “Kabbalah and Kreme” during which students sit down with a rabbi to discuss religious topics like Jewish mysticism – interpretations about the Jewish religion.
Novick said Hillel staff will work “around the clock” to stay connected with its members. Since shifting online, the organization has held more than 50 “one-on-one” virtual or phone conversations and hosted a fellowship meeting for 100 students, he said.
“At this time of disruption, it is more important now than ever before to create normalcy in our lives,” Novick said. “We are all in different places and have different experiences with dealing with the coronavirus, but we can also continue the ‘normal’ things that we do at GW Hillel from afar.”
Student Association Sen. Howard Brookins, U-at-Large, the co-president of the Multicultural Student Business Association and a candidate for SA president, said MSBA leaders canceled an annual business exposure trip to New York City to visit offices for companies like Instagram and Facebook. He said business school officials tried to set up virtual tours with businesses like Foot Locker, Deutsche Bank and Glossier, but staffers at both the school and the New York offices were too “limited” to facilitate the idea.
“Due to complications with communication and other issues going on on campus, they’re not available to set that up, and it is kind of heartbreaking actually,” he said.
Brookins said the organization will hold weekly e-board meetings over FaceTime to discuss the budget for next year and organization updates, but MSBA did not lose any money or gain refunds after canceling this semester’s events because the association had not yet asked the SA for funding. Group members have been sending University updates about COVID-19 in a group chat and checking in with organization members, he said.
“I feel like conversation interaction is lacking at this moment in time because we are confined to our own homes,” Brookins said. “It’s really important to maintain the line of communication to check on everybody and make sure everybody’s doing well.”
Aiden Labadie, a member of GW Catholics, said weekly events like daily mass in the Newman Center are now held virtually over Zoom. A “surprising” spike in participation for events like mass and rosaries has occurred in the past few weeks, possibly because students are more available to participate while at home, he said.
“It is kind of nice to see the Newman chapel and feel like nothing’s changed,” he said. “And it’s nice to pretend like everything’s normal in the midst of all this craziness.”
Anna Savino, the president of GW Balance, said the cancellation of the organization’s annual spring performance was “really hard” because members spend hours preparing for the event every week. Balance leaders send a schedule at the beginning of the week for members to continue participating in dance classes through Zoom while students are off campus, Savino said.
She said the weekend of the spring show is normally filled with events like “senior speeches” and the announcement of the Nutcracker co-producers, so the organization’s leaders are working to facilitate an online celebration.
“We’re really focusing on how we can make our community stronger besides the whole dance aspect of it,” Savino said. “I know a lot of people really rely on Balance as a community and friendship, and so that’s one of the most important things that we’re trying to keep alive.”
Makena Roberts contributed reporting.
This post has been updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Charlotte Pence is Vice President Mike Pence’s daughter-in-law. She is his daughter. We regret this error.