Some presidents of student organizations at Auburn University are striving to make adjustments amid the pandemic but are enduring their share of challenges.
Rafael Santos, senior in marketing and president of the International Student Organization, said though he appreciates his position in the organization, this semester has presented a new set of difficulties for him.
During the beginning of the semester, Santos contracted COVID-19. Though he was ill, Santos said he continued to focus on his role as a leader and did not become discouraged.
“When I tested positive for the virus at the start of the fall semester, it made it hard to really zoom in on how I was going to make this organization thrive,” he said. “I was establishing new safety rules for members and anything related. I didn’t let it stop me even though some days, my symptoms were grueling.”
Santos said once he recovered from the virus, he devoted most of his time focusing on the organization.
With regulations implemented by the Office of Student Involvement, Santos said he made it his goal to create an environment where international students can unite and promote cultural awareness while ensuring the safety of students. He feels this has difficult, however, because many members are discouraged during the pandemic. Most have family and friends located overseas and are concerned about their health as COVID-19 cases continue to increase worldwide.
For Santos, the state of uncertainty and not being aware of how to handle various situations amid the pandemic concerns him the most.
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“What is especially hard is having no precedent to what is going on or what is yet to come,” Santos said. “There’s no blueprint on how to deal with this, so a lot of improvisation has to be done to create the best experience possible for everyone. A lot of people have had to experience a lot of changes in the way they do things, and I am one of those persons.”
Many students have decided to reduce extracurricular involvement while others continue to participate under precaution. To accommodate members, Santos said he has adjusted meeting arrangements and organizational events.
“We no longer have in-person executive meetings; we changed it to online meetings instead,” Santos said. “We also changed the location of our social hour to an open space so people can come to grab free food and be around the Green Space.”
Santos encourages members to wear a mask and practice social distancing if they attend social events. Santos said most members do not attend in-person gatherings due to safety concerns.
Though it has been difficult, Santos said it is important to remain motivated through unpredictable times.
“We are dealing with something entirely new and therefore, we have to stay motivated in order to find ways to make it work as we go through this.”
Olivia Harris, president of the Auburn University English Club, said she has experienced difficulties while adjusting as well. She said her greatest challenge is organizing strategies for incoming members online during meetings.
“This semester, the biggest challenge has been coming up with creative and practical English Club events that we can do over Zoom,” Harris said. “I know that most freshmen students are looking for new things to join on campus right now, so it is important that we keep them excited and involved as much as we can.”
Harris said she had to adjust her communication skills during meetings. Some of the adjustments made on online platforms have put an additional obligation on another organization leader also.
“We are finding new ways to interact with students on social media and keep them updated with English Club happenings, which put some extra responsibility on our social media director, Julia,” Harris said. “As president, I needed to reevaluate our positions so that we can all contribute equally and help her out as much as possible.”
Harris said that her team members and club advisor are at assisting her with organizational assignments and encouraging her through challenging times and new adjustments.
Harris said the entire change has been trying for her because she is expected to graduate this fall. She is hopeful for networking opportunities and forming friendships inside and outside of her major face-to-face.
She usually looks forward to scheduling duties and spending quality time with team members.
“The hardest part is not being able to communicate with many people in person, like our team meeting at Starbucks or the RBD Library to plan events or just hang out,” Harris said.
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