Student orgs expect rise in involvement

Students+interact+with+different+student+organizations+Sunday+during+the+2019+involvement+fair+in+MLK+Commons.

Northern Star File Photo

Students interact with different student organizations Sunday during the 2019 involvement fair in MLK Commons.

Ashley Dwy

Student involvement at NIU wasn’t the same for the last year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, many student organizations saw a decrease in membership. 

There were about 332 organizations registered to Huskie Link before April 2020. Currently, there are 228 organizations registered to Huskie Link, Alex Pitner, assistant director for student involvement, said.

Pitner said the decrease in membership is partly a result of the pandemic making it harder for clubs to meet in person, but also because many students graduated. 

Since most of their members graduated, the African Student Association went from 100 members pre-pandemic to roughly 60 members now. 

“Most people did graduate, but the other people decided not to come to school because of COVID,” Ebere Osuji, president of the African Student Association, said. “Most of them decided to stay home because it was more affordable for them… so we had to do everything on Zoom. So, our numbers just dropped because of that.”

On top of membership decreasing, some organizations saw their quality as an organization decrease because of Zoom. Since Model UN is a dialogue club and they weren’t able to have that dialogue during the pandemic, the organization lost a few members. Before the pandemic, Model UN had seven or eight members, and now they have three, Tommy Mejdrech, president of Model UN, said.

“We usually go to Chicago twice a year for our conferences, but we haven’t been able to do that because one got canceled and the other was fully online,” Mejdrech said. “It’s just not the same experience because nobody in the club right now has been to a conference in person.”

Active Minds experienced similar difficulties when switching to online meetings. 

“It was really hard to give our full attention on screen and even harder to talk about the things we were all going through,” Jack Gordon, secretary for Active Minds, said.

The pandemic also affected student organizations financially. Osuji said the African Student Association had to pay out of pocket if they wanted to host an event via Zoom.

“My former president was informing us that we didn’t have fundings to actually hold events because there was no need to hold events in COVID,” Osuji said. 

Because there weren’t any events to host, there weren’t any topics of discussion for the African Student Association. Osuji said that, for the most part, they just hosted meetings.

“It was hard for people to go on Zoom because most of their classes were on Zooms, so they didn’t want to go on Zoom again for a meeting,” Osuji said. “We did monthly check-ins to make sure everyone was mentally and physically well with COVID and how it’s affecting them and their family and their schoolwork.”

Student organizations have tried increasing their membership by utilizing their social media accounts and hosting events or attending outreach events like the Involvement Fair. The fair saw roughly 105 student organizations participate and featured organizations such as Greek life, sports, social clubs and more.

Model UN saw a renewed interest in its organization and had about 30 people sign up at the Involvement Fair on Sunday, Mejdrech said. 

“Even if we get maybe a third of (those 30), that’d be really helpful so we can have some productive dialogue because it’s just so tough with only three people,” Mejdrech said. “You need somebody to proctor, you need people to participate, so it’s just a lot more difficult with less people.”

Students will also have another opportunity to browse organizations at the Black student organization expo from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Center for Black Studies and Gender and Sexuality Resource Center open house.

For Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, social media played a big role in their recruitment, Grabiela Martinez, president of Lambda Theta Alpha, said. Before the pandemic, Lambda Theta Alpha had 12 members. During the pandemic, they had six. Because of their efforts on social media, they currently have ten members.

“On our Instagram page, we noticed (what post) had the best outreach at certain times or if fliers are doing good or a certain event was more popular than the other,” Martinez said. “Really, just sort of putting two and two together and working around the clock on social media to recruit was the best way to go about it because we ended up going back to our numbers that we were hoping to get for this semester.”

For student organizations that want to utilize their social media better, there is a way to link their organization’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page to Huskie Link. Students can send their organization’s handle to Pitner, and he can help link it to the respective page on Huskie Link. 

“If you’re active on social media, then (the students will) be able to see the stuff that you’re already doing and get to know you a lot more than they would by just taking a look at Huskie Link,” Pitner said.

NIU transitioned Huskie Link last fall to a different platform called Presence, so it was easier for students to use then its previous platform called Campus Labs. Presence is more user-friendly and allows students to add video conferencing links to hold virtual meetings. 

With classes returning in-person, word-of-mouth and hanging up fliers are now a way to let students know about student organizations that are looking for new members. To increase membership, it will really be about going out on campus and talking about different organizations to the students on campus, Pitner said.

“We put up fliers, we spread through word-of-mouth, and a lot of us have clubs related to (Model UN),” Mejdrech said. “For example, I know a guy in Mock Trial, so we send students to each other and work together a little bit.”

To sign up for any student organization or to learn more about any student organization, students can go to Huskie Link and search the name of the desired club.