Student organizations adapting and growing as in-person activities slowly resume

With each day that passes, campus is starting to look like it is 2019 again.

While the over 350 clubs on campus operated almost exclusively online until the end of last spring, many have spent the fall semester reacclimating to in-person operation.

“Last year it was very difficult to engage with our members,” said Brooke Boyd, a senior majoring in biochemistry and nutrition and the president of UPup, a student organization focused on the training of service dogs. “It is so much better now that more of our meetings are in person.”

Last year, UPup operated virtually, with executive board members serving as dog trainers. Although meetings are still online, the club has begun hosting outdoor, in-person training sessions again.

Boyd says the outdoor setting has allowed more members to work hands-on training the two service dogs currently under UPup’s supervision.

Ernesto celebrates his certification as a service dog on May 13, 2021 after training with UM's UPup student organization.
Ernesto celebrates his certification as a service dog on May 13, 2021 after training with UM's UPup student organization. Photo credit: @miamiupup

Some club leaders say that despite less stringent COVID-19 protocol, the threat of infection continues to complicate in-person event-planning. Zach Ng, a junior majoring in finance and the president of UM’s Asian American Students Association (AASA), instituted a mask mandate at an outdoor boba event in early September in order to adhere to university protocol.

Since then, the university has canceled its outdoor mask mandate, inspiring AASA to host one of their biggest events, the Lantern Festival, outside without any mask restrictions on Oct. 22.

“Even though we had Lantern Fest last year, it is very exciting to have it at full steam this year,” said Bao Duong, external vice president of AASA. “We are glad to have sophomores and freshmen see what our organization is like.”

Duong, a senior majoring in neuroscience, said she is very excited for other activities that AASA will be hosting this semester. They have already hosted a movie screening and roundtable events for members to discuss their unique cultural experiences and different ways to get involved in Asian American activism.

“COVID-19 told us what was important,” Duong said. “We are collaborating with other schools now to create a stronger Asian American community.”

Students for Life Miami, a pro-life community organization, was founded in the spring 2020 semester. Because of COVID-19, the club started with a small number of members.

“We had basically all of our meetings on Zoom last year and we weren’t able to have that many due to COVID,” said Anne-Marie Issa, the president of Students for Life Miami.

The Students for Life Miami table at CanesFest on Aug. 22, 2021. This year's CanesFest was the newly formed club's first opportunity to connect with students in person after last year's CanesFest was moved online.
The Students for Life Miami table at CanesFest on Aug. 22, 2021. This year's CanesFest was the newly formed club's first opportunity to connect with students in person after last year's CanesFest was moved online. Photo credit: Anne-Marie Issa

Issa, a sophomore double majoring in political science and international studies, said the club now has bi-weekly, in-person meetings. Students for Life also tables on campus and recruited new members through the in-person CanesFest in August. Issa says the ability to operate in person and on campus is especially vital to the success of new organizations like Students for Life Miami.

While last year, the annual student activity fair was held virtually, it returned to an in-person setting in the Watsco Center, allowing clubs to finally introduce themselves to first and second-year students for the first time.

“We added about 50 members on Engage, which was very successful for us,” said Anthony Garcia, a junior majoring in accounting and finance and the treasurer of Students for Life Miami. “It helped us tremendously.”