May 14, 2021 | NEWS | By Psalm Delaney

This year has been unique, unpredictable, and unforgettable for the Colorado College campus community. For many students, community building has become more difficult than ever before. However, amid the year’s turmoil, CC affinity groups have continued to foster community. The socially-distanced nature of the year has urged students to reshape, reimagine, and reinvent their connection with their peers.

Like most classes at CC, student affinity groups looked to Zoom to safely connect with others. For example, the CC Hillel community relocated their Friday evening Shabbat gatherings from the Interfaith House to Zoom. Additionally, groups including the Native American Student Union (NASU) decided to replace weekly meetings with bi-monthly meetings in an effort to reduce Zoom fatigue.

With food as an integral part of student gatherings on campus, many student organizations have continued to provide food while meeting in a remote and/or socially distanced manner. Most groups sent gift cards to students so that they could still meet together over a meal. 

“We still wanted to include food as a part of the meetings and gatherings, so what we’ve been doing is sending GrubHub or DoorDash gift cards to everyone that attends,” said NASU co-chair Andres Madrigal ’22. “It’s been nice that we can all share a meal even if it’s at a different time.”

Other groups such as the Luso-Brazilian club met over Zoom to make food together across the world. Co-chair Joaquim Ped Salazar ’23, who currently lives in São Paulo, told The Catalyst that he really enjoyed making brigadeiros over Zoom with his friends. 

“I was cooking with my laptop on the stove while talking with everyone, which was really fun,” Salazar said.

Care packages were also a very popular form of community engagement this year. Groups across campus worked with campus resources like Student Activities to plan, package, and deliver gifts to their community. For example, NASU sent terrarium kits to its members, Hillel sent Passover baskets in addition to weekly local challah deliveries, and the Asian Student Union (ASU) provided boba drinks and kits to members on National Boba Day.

This year, student affinity groups made an effort to engage beyond their immediate groups by reaching out to organizations and professionals both within and outside of the campus community.

The Black Student Union (BSU) co-chairs Dylan Hall ’22 and Lonnell Schuler ’22 said that the Butler Center, Campus Activities, and Fine Arts Center were a “major help” to the overall success of the year’s collaboration and engagement events.

“It definitely helped us out to have people on the administrative level to help us make sure that the events went the way that we wanted them to, especially with COVID-19 regulations,” Hall said.

The BSU said that with the support of campus administration, they were able to host events including the “Taste of the Black Diaspora” event and a meeting with U.S. Rep. Cori Bush.

This semester, the Luso-Brazilian club was able to work with graffiti artist Eder Muniz and host a capoeira workshop with Antoñio Cozido.

“Being able to bring in people from Brazil without having to fly them in has been really nice,” said co-chair Brett Wilsey ’21.

The communities also engaged with one another and the greater CC community concerning ongoing social issues. Groups including the BSU, ASU, and SOMOS each worked on solidarity statements and shared them with the larger campus community.

“As of late we have looked at more serious issues going around AAPI,” said Jennifer Lam ’22, co-chair of the ASU. She said that the “rekindling of [her] love for reading” this past summer encouraged her to start an ASU book club to catalyze important conversations surrounding the Asian community.

The group was proud to have hosted community events such as a performance from musical artist Ruby Ibarra and a trip to see the film “Minari” while prompting discussion around pertinent and ongoing social issues. 

“We do fun things to start a conversation,” said Korean-American Student Association (KASA) co-chair Lindsey Smith ’23.

However, the reshaping of student community engagement did not come without significant challenges. Most of the student groups that spoke with The Catalyst said that meeting over Zoom significantly decreased overall student participation.

“Getting people to click on the link is so difficult,” Martina Alvarez ’21 said.

In previous years, upwards of 60 students attended Friday night Shabbat gatherings at the Interfaith House. This year, Zoom participation numbers dwindled to 10.

“There has been a lack of energy in the community because we’re all so tired of looking at our screens all the time,” said co-chair Ilana Rosenberg ’21.

NASU faced a similar situation as participation decreased by 50%. However, Madrigal explained that he was grateful to connect with his NASU peers nevertheless.

“We have been really lucky because we have a core group of folks that have been coming to meetings,” he said.

In addition to decreased physical participation, Lindsey Smith ’23 explained that it was really hard for KASA and ASU to receive input from those who do still attend the Zoom meetings. She said that it has been really hard to know how to best engage with and serve the community, since people have been less inclined to respond to questionnaires. Smith believes that more people are willing to provide input when participating in in-person group settings.

Several student groups also said that the pandemic created a divide in their community.

August Caldwell ’22 explained that the Hillel community culture has been especially strained because many people within the Hillel community connect to Jewish life through community and culture rather than through “more religious things.”

“Personally, I feel like a lot of my Jewish identity is centered around community and hanging out with other Jews and that has not been [as] possible this year,” Caldwell said. “I have just been struggling not really knowing who I am as a Jew when I’m not able to reach out to others and not be enveloped in that community.”

Furthermore, the Luso-Brazilian club emphasized that COVID-19 has impeded on traditional expression of Brazilian culture.

“Brazilian culture is so touchy, and so open, and so welcoming,” Wilsey said. “It’s hard with COVID-19 to have that restriction on it because you can’t kiss each other on the cheek when you greet each other. You can’t have normal Brazilian culture without touching.”

Nevertheless, the student organizations were able to find and celebrate the positive aspects of the unprecedented circumstances.

Many of the groups emphasized the benefit of the flexibility of the online format as it has allowed for widespread engagement from people within and outside of the CC community.

“Some people have taken time off from CC, but they can still log on to SOMOS. I feel like it’s kind and considerate of the community that we built. People who normally couldn’t attend can now attend meetings,” Alvarez said.

Salazar appreciated that he was able to invite his friend who lives in São Paulo to share her singing with the Luso-Brazilian community at CC. Madrigal was excited that his newborn sibling was able to meet his friends.

The Zoom format also allowed CC student groups to interact with one another through a “Hallow-Mixer” celebration. Lam explained that this event was an excellent opportunity for student bonding beyond the affinity groups who have been rather secluded from one another in the past.

The year has fostered innovative event planning and now student organizations look forward to connecting on a more personal level next school year. 

“This year we have been able to get the programming [of events] down and so now we can focus on … increasing dialogue and conversation between people to make it feel more comfortable,” Schuler said.

Colorado College affinity groups across campus were faced with many challenges this year, yet they were still able to persevere and continue to find new ways of collaboration, innovation, and engagement in a unique manner never seen before in school history.

As the campus community nears the end of Block 8, the student organization co-chairs encourage their peers to take a break from the screen, take time to reflect on the past year, focus on caring for themselves and their communities this summer, and to come back next year excited to connect and build in-person relationships.

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