Digital campus life affects clubs both administratively and socially

By Erica Quinones

News Editor

No physical campus could mean no campus life, but some clubs took to digital platforms while the Student Government Association works to streamline the administrative processes that keep clubs functioning.

With not only the loss of their meeting spaces but also the addition of social distancing practices to protect citizens from spreading COVID-19, Washington College’s clubs are effectively out of commission. But some groups continue to function in a new digital format.

One such club is Musicians Union (MU), presided over by junior Berkleigh Fadden.

MU typically functions in three ways: weekly club meetings, weekly small ensemble rehearsals, and monthly service projects performing music at Heron Point of Chestertown. 

Fadden said that they lost all that with the current social distancing practices. However, they are preserving the club community online through social media and video chats.

They also plan to host their upcoming Nonconformal, a collaborative event with Supporting All Gender Experiences (SAGE) and Encouraging Respect of Sexuality (EROS), online, according to Fadden.

Another group, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is trying to meet its goal of fostering a faith-based community digitally, according to President of InterVarsity sophomore Delilah Jones.

“Our group is largely based on building community, so social distancing has definitely thrown a bit of a wrench in those plans,” Jones said.

But still they are finding ways to connect with each other by continuing their events like Bible studies through Zoom, hosting game nights, and creating check-in rooms to support each other.

While the digital space might make interactions seem impersonal, according to Jones, they are still working to “be there in the midst of the storm.”

Fadden and Jones are not alone in moving to a digital format for club life as Black Student Union is planning a virtual pajama party in mid-April.

While club life can continue to function online, what is no longer available is the financial means to hold widescale events.

According to Financial Controller of SGA sophomore Liz Hay in an email interview, the SGA was asked to restrict spending only to “critical operating budget needs.”

These needs include student wages and contractual obligations, not club spending. All remaining money in club budgets for the spring 2020 semester cannot be reallocated to online club programs.

Hay said that it is “a little unclear right now where that leftover money will be going – typically anything not spent by a club at the end of the fiscal year comes back to the SGA main account.”

She does not know if SGA will be asked to change that process.

If the remaining funds do return to the SGA account, Hay said she already discussed ideas for its uses – including putting it towards “greater funding of big club expenses like conferences and speakers next year,” as well as campus improvements and long-term projects that “we could invest in to benefit students.” 

While clubs cannot reallocate funding in their budgets for spring 2020, how they conduct the budget process for fall 2020 is also affected by the digital campus.

Typically, clubs submit a fall semester budget at the end of the spring semester following a budget process meeting which reviews the budget guidelines. Some clubs may also choose to attend a budget review meeting or be required to attend said meeting if they request at least $1500, to discuss their requested budget. 

This process is modified for the fall 2020 semester. According to Hay, they are splitting the fall budget process into two parts – a September budget and an October-December budget. 

They made this decision to “reduce stress and workload for clubs this spring,” as many clubs delayed their executive board elections until the beginning of next semester, and because executive board transitions may become difficult online, according to Hay.

The September budget is due on Friday, May 1, and clubs will begin the remaining semester budget process when students return to campus.

In lieu of individual budget meetings, club treasurers will receive an email with comments and edits to budgets. Any discussion about those edits will occur over email. 

The October-December budget will begin the first week of school with budgets due on Sept. 15, and clubs do not need to submit a September budget for October-December funding.

If a club is worried about securing funding for an event later in the fall semester which requires purchases over the summer, they can email Hay for assistance.

Student Interest Groups that were applying for club status this spring may also submit a September budget. If they are granted club status in September, they may submit an October-December budget as well.

By splitting the budget process, SGA hopes to avoid large budget reallocations due to differing visions for a club between old and new executive boards, according to Hay.

The one transition that will not occur for the fall semester budget process is the planned new guidelines.

According to Hay, her committee “worked for a year on writing completely new guidelines that preserve a lot of the same rules but are just clearer and more comprehensive.”

“Unfortunately, we had finally finished them and planned to bring them to the Senate the week after spring break,” Hay said.

Because the guidelines did not come to Senate, they are not in place for the fall budget process. Hay hopes to pass them for the spring 2021 budget process.

The September “mini-budgets will be held to the same standards as usual” despite their size, according to Hay.

While the fiscal status of and processes for clubs are undergoing changes, the students involved are maintaining their communities.

“I love the community we have created through music and I wanted us to keep it through this time of uncertainty. Having people around, even just online, supporting each other can improve the mental health of everyone involved,” Fadden said.

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