Student-run clubs adapt to stay active

Anna Arnsberger

On Friday, April 17, Wilson’s Common Ground Club was having another passionate discussion. Just like every other week, members were deep in conversation, deliberating DC slang, Sara Baartman, and hyper-tan Instagram models.

But this was no ordinary Common Ground meeting. Screaming younger siblings and intrusive pets made unprecedented cameos. Club members rummaged through refrigerators instead of backpacks in search of lunch. Bedrooms and kitchens replaced room 319 as students lounged on couches in front of their computer screens. This was a Common Ground meeting in the era of coronavirus, and like so much else in our society, it had moved online.

Since the closure of school in March, Common Ground has held its weekly meetings on Zoom. Other than a few hiccups with unwanted “Zoom bombers” and audio glitches, the leaders believe they have been successful in their virtual switch, continuing to host valuable conversations that are integral to the club. This unusual situation has even presented a number of silver linings, such as more time to prepare structured slideshows. 

Common Ground’s last Zoom meeting peaked at 28 members—much more than the average in-person gatherings of yore. “Maybe because of timing or it’s easier to show up,” senior and club member Lucy Strand said, “but it’s really good that their messages are reaching a wider audience and more people are learning from what they’re saying.” The new virtual format has opened the club to former Wilson students and those from other schools, even one who lives in Argentina. Sophomore Angeline Daniels, one of Common Ground’s co-leaders, sees this as an advantage to hosting meetings online. “Wilson’s just a small space compared to a world of ideas, and exposure from literally different countries and cultures, all that perspective is super cool,” Daniels said.

But not all groups have benefited from being away from school. Latinx in STEM club, while also holding weekly Zoom meetings, has noticed a sharp decline in attendance. Junior and club founder Isabel Lopez-Santiago explained that she continues to teach about a topic each week and then go into a more hands-on activity. But she feels restricted by the kinds of interactive lessons that are possible and has to rely more heavily on videos and online resources. “Now I have to plan activities keeping the materials people do and don’t have at home, which can be tricky for a lot of science experiments,” Lopez-Santiago said.

Other clubs have found different online methods of staying connected. Along with an occasional Zoom meeting, Leftist Student Union updates its group chat with film and reading suggestions. Astroclub uses Remind to send memes, articles, quizzes, and movie recommendations a few times a week. While they recognize that many students are busy and don’t host meetings, junior and club co-founder Keyla Sejas said, “we tend to send random messages just to keep the positive vibe spreading around… [and] take our mind off of this horrid reality.”

While many clubs have been inactive since the closure of school, members of the ones that persist agree that continuing their extracurriculars is a useful distraction from the dullness of self-isolation. “Keeping a routine is crucial during quarantine, and that includes keeping a routine with my club, and if that helps other people keep a routine too, then that’s great,” said Lopez-Santiago. Strand echoed that sentiment, pointing out how clubs give students a reason to get out of their own world. “A lot of people kind of miss Wilson and having a normal routine, so clubs actively trying to keep meeting is a really nice way to still have something that you enjoyed from school keep going,” she said.