SFU student clubs are still trying to create community online

The Peak interviews student clubs on how they’re socializing distantly during an online semester

Illustration courtesy of SFSS.

By Winona Young, Peak Associate

Following the trend of these unprecedented times, the SFSS launched its first online-exclusive Clubs Day on September 15–17. The event being moved to online follows SFU’s decision to make classes and planned gatherings remote in accordance with COVID-19 health and safety regulations.

As a campus with over 90 student clubs and several Student Unions overseen by the SFSS, what can an online semester mean for the student life on campus? How are clubs continuing to operate during this time? To investigate this further, The Peak interviewed executives via email from a few of SFU’s largest student clubs: Pearl Tran from K.STORM (Korean Storm), Rolin Liu from SFUTA (Taiwan Association — SFU), and Justin Yu from the SFU Anime Club. At the time of writing this, SFU SOCA and SFU Surge have not provided statements. 

When K. STORM, a Korean culture enthusiasts club, and their president Pearl Tran heard there would be a Clubs Day this fall, they were relieved.

“Of course, we were a bit disappointed to hear that it would be online,” she wrote, “but we knew that was inevitable due to SFU remaining online for health and safety reasons. We were a bit curious to see how the format would be, since all we were familiar with at the moment was Zoom and BB Collaborate for video-calling.”

Rolin Liu, VP of SFUTA, one of SFU’s oldest clubs being established since 1989, similarly found the Clubs Day online format intriguing, but he and his team also had reservations.

“We were [sic] nervous that it might not attracted [sic] as many people as in person but it was better than nothing,” he remarked.

Justin Yu, the social media coordinator of the SFU Anime Club, found that the SFSS holding the event online “[set] a good example” for the rest of the overall SFU club community. And unlike most clubs, SFU Anime has been holding online events since quarantine even began.

“Since the start of self-isolation in March, SFU Anime Club has actually been holding several online events for our community,” Yu wrote. “[This includes] a Mental Health Week, our Summer Icebreaker, and SFU Gamefest (a collaboration event with SFU E-Sports), and we’ve seen great success with these events, often times having event attendance nearly equivalent to that of our in person events.

“We were very confident in our abilities to adapt to an online Clubs Day successfully,” Yu stated. 

According to the SFSS, approximately 2,000 students attended the event itself that was hosted on the video conferencing platform, Hopin. Liu and Yu agreed that the online Clubs Day was the best effort by the SFSS. 

However, the virtual Clubs Day was not without its shortcomings. For instance, lagging video feeds were an issue, as well as the inability for club executives to see which people were currently in one’s Hopin booth.

At first, it was a bit awkward talking to students while we were on video while they were mainly speaking through the chat box,” Tran wrote. “One of my execs mentioned she understands what her [P]rofessors mean when they say that they feel like they are talking to no one.”

Yu of SFU Anime Club also shared this sentiment. 

“Sometimes it felt like talking to an empty audience,” he wrote, but also expressed it still felt like him and his club execs could hold one-on-one conversations with those in the Hopin chat box. 

Yu added, “The platform seemed to be moderately active throughout the three days, although more advertising during events like Welcome Day might have helped make it more successful.”

Concerns regarding Clubs Days did not stop there. K.STORM and SFUTA club executives expressed concern about recruitment for the online semester. Not only did Liu write about the lack of engagement that may come from disinterested students during an online semester, he also wrote about the issue of being international.

“Many of our club execs are not in Vancouver so it will be harder to host events,” Liu expressed. “We are planning events in Taiwan [ . . . ] [execs are] helping with the planning of online events in Vancouver, through making event posters, posting on social media, creating proposals and connecting with sponsors online.” 

Another worry for club executives like Tran for K.STORM is how their club will survive financially.

“Our club offers two kinds of memberships; regular and VIP,” Tran said. While regular members do not need to pay fees to be part of the club, VIP members not only purchase a membership, but enjoy perks like free entry to all events, discounts from club sponsors, and extra swag. 

“However, since we cannot host our in-person events that tend to have higher costs so we can charge a ticket fee, we must rely on hosting free admission online events,” she wrote. “Therefore, we may have a lower cash flow even though we are continuing to spend money for events.”

But despite these concerns, all three clubs are getting creative on how they can engage other students online. For instance, Yu mentioned how SFU Anime Club utilizes its Discord server that holds over 1,200 members which has been especially useful during this semester.

“The Discord server has really become an essential part of the club,” he remarked, “It really helped us adapt well to the online nature of current activities [ . . . ] The result of this work has led to our club being more active than ever, and we’ve had a growth of over 400+ members interacting in our community since self isolation began in March.”

In terms of the first events held by clubs for the semester, SFUTA hosted their workshop of making at-home bubble tea virtually which, according to Liu, garnered over 20 students in an online room. 

It was different and a little nerve [w]racking that we might have technical difficulties but we made it work,” Liu wrote, “It feels a lot different than in person as you don’t have the same type of interaction. I think the more we do it the better we will become.”

The combined efforts of SFU Anime Club, K.STORM, SFUTA, and the other 90 or so SFU student clubs prove you can still be social in a socially-distanced semester.