Student Activities seeks to maintain the ‘social’ in distancing

Organizations like FUDG and RUF are staying connected online

A+night+at+Friday+Night+Underground%2C+a+popular+party+alternative+for+students%2C+in+January+2019.+Photo+by+James+Ricks%2C+%2721.

A night at Friday Night Underground, a popular party alternative for students, in January 2019. Photo by James Ricks, ’21.

Kristen Xu

When all Washington and Lee students were told to evacuate in March of this year due to fear of spreading COVID-19, Director of Student Activities Kelsey Goodwin was left with a difficult question: What does a student activities director do without students or activities on campus?

“The number one goal of my office is to help with community building on campus,” Goodwin said. “We can do that virtually. It just requires some creativity. We are now learning how to expand what it means to connect. There are opportunities there to continue to showcase just how special W&L is, how much we all mean to each other and really reach out and support each other virtually.”

Goodwin believes that it’s not the learning that makes Washington and Lee so difficult to leave; it’s the community.

“[Washington and Lee] is an amazing academic experience, but you can, frankly, get amazing academic experiences in a lot of places,” Goodwin said. “I think people come to W&L because it is such a tight-knit community just with its own unique culture and sense of place. I just anticipated students deeply missing that.”

Goodwin was right. Micah Holcomb, ‘21, the artistic director of Friday Night Underground (FUDG), says that he and FUDG’s leadership team wanted to continue bringing the distinct feel of their organization to others while social distancing. After their Instagram followers indicated they missed the coffee, conversations and creative outlet FUDG provided them on campus, Holcomb and his team decided to bring “a sort of nostalgia” through Instagram.

“We can’t really recreate the social aspects of Friday Underground, which I really think is the part that people enjoy the most and maybe the most important,” Holcomb said. “We all kind of took up this part that people wanted to remember and stay in contact with and do things that were just like ‘on brand’ in a way, just to remind everyone that we were still out there.”

FUDG has been hosting live streams of coffee recipes, painting, and performances by students. They also have a Box folder where students can submit their art, from poetry to video performances. According to Holcomb, these pieces will be posted randomly to the FUDG Instagram in the future.

“I feel like there’s this just general sense on campus of something that was lost,” Holcomb said. “Especially with seniors, but… everybody had stuff in mind that they wanted to do and accomplish and more than those events themselves the memories that were formed around them and we, you know, we didn’t really have time to mentally or emotionally prepare for that loss. I think [we’re] trying to provide events around which people can still share… because it’s tough to go home.”

RUF has also attempted to offer a sense of normalcy for some students as they transition to life at home.

Savannah Johnson, ‘22, said that going to large group and small group activities has allowed her to be more “intentional” with keeping in contact with others. She finds that involvement in the organization has gone up, due to the accessibility of online meetings.

“It’s actually easier to just pull out your computer and join a meeting,” Johnson said. “It’s [not] necessarily better than the in-person interaction and designating that time and making the effort to go when you’re on campus, but it’s definitely more accessible… It really does bring a lot of joy to see like some of the faces that you no longer see on campus every day. It’s just a great way to stay connected.”

Staying connected is the overarching goal of many organizations as they reach out to members off campus. Johnson believes that, like classes, student activities should continue online during the academic school year.

“We’re still going through the same things that we would go through on campus,” Johnson said. “We’re still struggling with managing work and getting it done on time. And so RUF is this time to regroup from all the stressors of school that may occur. And even though we’re not on campus, we’re still having to deal with that off campus.”

Goodwin shares this philosophy. She welcomes all students to contact her with any ideas to promote inclusivity and a sense of community while everyone is in isolation.

“I miss [the students],” Goodwin said. “It’s probably no secret [they] are my favorite part of my job. Hopefully within a couple of weeks, people will be reaching out and looking for more ways to connect and do something that’s inclusive and big and sort of maybe the campus wide. If people have ideas about things that would be a great way to raise morale and boost our sense of community, alleviate stress, I would love to hear from [them].”