Last semester, the Emory community gathered in person again for classes, clubs and events. Now, as the Omicron variant surges, some students are disappointed by the return to virtual learning. 

While in-person instruction will resume Jan. 31, Emory student leaders are grappling  with how to operate clubs virtually for the first few weeks of the semester in a way that is still engaging for their members.

For Ben Jacobson (23B), president of Emory Business Ethics, this time will be used as a planning period for the rest of what will hopefully be another successful in-person semester.

“It feels like all clubs are very stagnant right now and that we’re just preparing to go in person,” Jacobson said.

While holding clubs virtually presents an opportunity to plan ahead for future events, Emory Business Ethics has faced challenges in finding new members.

“One of the toughest parts is recruiting, which is essentially impossible,” Jacobson said. “We’re going to do our best to join club fairs, but I don’t suspect we’ll gain any new members during this month, although we have a few students that essentially on their own will reach out and ask to join.”

Another obstacle student leaders face is the uncertainty in how clubs are allowed to operate. Co-director of Project Downtown Atlanta Sara Khan (23C) said Emory’s return to in-person classes does not necessarily mean the same transition will occur for clubs right away.

Project Downtown Atlanta members at their biggest event of the year last semester led by co-director Sara Khan (23C). (Sara Khan)

“I just got [an] email from SILT [Student Involvement, Leadership & Transitions] talking about the fact that we don’t know if we’re going to be out of orange status after Jan. 31,” Khan said. “We can’t do anything, even outdoors, if it’s not essential with orange [status], so I don’t know what we’d be able to do.”

Project Downtown Atlanta members are responsible for packing sandwiches and hygiene kits for homeless and underprivileged residents of Atlanta, but with the first few weeks of the semester online, the club has had to switch their efforts to activities that can be accomplished virtually.

“I think the only thing that [being] online makes a little bit easier is fundraisers,” Khan said. “I think that’s something really easy and really accessible that everyone can do, so I think it definitely makes our fundraising efforts a little bit easier, but obviously makes it a little harder to be able to engage with the homeless and help them out if we can’t all get together and make those supplies.”

No matter what types of events clubs typically host, student leaders have learned how to effectively engage with their members and host events virtually during previous remote semesters. Secretary General of the Emory Model United Nations conference Valerie Cella (22N) explained how her organization has pivoted seamlessly to a virtual format because the club has done so in the past.

“Luckily, we did a virtual conference last year, so we know how to operate,” Cella said. “Because of being on [the] executive team last year, I know how to run the conference to the best of Emory’s and [the International Relations Association’s] ability in a safe manner, respecting rules but also being engaging and fun.”

While some students have been frustrated with the remote start to the semester, Emory student leaders encourage their fellow students to continue with the clubs they are passionate about and look forward to in-person events resuming soon.

“There [are] a lot of dejected students at Emory because of [going] online,” Cella said. “So we’ve been operating how most clubs have been operating and just trying to rally the school spirit again to join clubs and be an active part of Emory’s community.”

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Allison Reinhardt (23C) is from Newtown, Pennsylvania, majoring in psychology and minoring in quantitative sciences. Outside of the Wheel, she is involved in AHANA Dance, Emory Hillel and Spoon Emory.