Despite Hardships, Willamette Clubs Prove Resilient Amidst COVID-19
Updated: Feb 24
Having faced close to two years of pandemic-related challenges, Willamette looks a lot different than it did before COVID-19, and this “new normal” certainly extends to clubs on campus who have also had their fair share of challenges. From having to navigate the safety of in-person events with COVID-19 restrictions to experiencing drops in membership, many Willamette clubs have gone through some significant changes.
Some of the hardest adjustments for clubs have been for those whose activities normally revolve around in-person gatherings, such as sports and music. One such group is Headband, one of Willamette’s three a cappella groups. President Seth Bell (‘23) described the events they would typically hold in a normal year: “We usually perform about once or twice a month…my first semester we traveled around quite a bit more. We sang downtown, went to Oregon State University (OSU), we had a few concerts on campus.” However, pandemic precautions meant that Headband has seen a big change in the way they are able to perform.
The group was unable to have in-person audiences until this academic year, so the entirety of their concerts for the 2020-2021 academic year were pre-recorded. Additionally, Headband had to prioritize the safety of their own members while practicing. Bell said that the group spent 2020-2021 singing double-masked while outdoors, and that this year they continue to wear masks, sanitize their equipment, and ventilate their practice room.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Headband has found some silver linings—they utilized the lull in concerts last year to record an EP, “Hi, We’re Headband,” which Bell described as “a really cool project to do during the pandemic.” The group also managed to make a music video for the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCAs) and record their annual end-of-the-year performance.
Headband isn’t alone in being a Willamette club that has made good come out of the pandemic. The Japanese Studies Student Leaders (JSSL), a group also normally centered around in-person gatherings, managed to hold events that former President Ada Martin (‘23) considers to be a point of pride for the club. She stated, “We had a big festival in April last year, Sakura Matsuri, which is our big cherry blossom festival...we were able to do crafting events and things that could still follow COVID guidelines, and carry out a successful, large-scale event that a lot of people didn’t think we could do.” Martin also described other creative ways that the group has persisted through the pandemic by mailing care packages to its members, holding distanced movie nights and grab-and-go events.
However, not all clubs have found it easy to adapt to the pandemic. Marcos Maza (‘22), president of Badminton Club, said that the organization was essentially ended by the lockdown, as it was impossible to play the sport when many of their members were not even on campus. In fact, Badminton Club was not even registered with the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) at the beginning of this year: “There was a mishap in the paperwork so the club actually vanished for like a year, and I had to reinstate it,” stated Maza. However, he confirmed that the club has returned to the familiar, welcoming environment he considers to be at its core—“Everyone is welcome, with no prior experience needed,” he said. He encouraged people interested in joining to come play on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. in Henkle Gym in Sparks.
Similarly, President of Zena Farm Club Grace Shiffrin (‘23) said that her activity-based group also struggled with COVID restrictions, unable to do their typical gardening at Zena Farms. “[Pre-pandemic] we had a lot more work parties, is what we call them, where we were able to go to Zena and we just had a lot more events and things that happened. With the pandemic it’s been harder to figure ‘What can we do? What can’t we do?’ and since guidelines are always changing I feel like we’re never positive about what’s going on.”
Though the group is now back to working at Zena on a regular basis, Shiffrin said that the club has also struggled with finding new members and overall consistency of attendance post-pandemic, issues that seem to be a repeating theme amongst various clubs on campus. For example, Co-Captain of the Ultimate Frisbee Club Aidan Lawrence-Devine (‘22), echoed this sentiment, also describing how the group has seen limited numbers and a significant drop in attendance from underclass students, and speculating that in general, students seem less engaged in activities post-pandemic. “Involvement is hard. I think there’s a much bigger discussion [on this] to be had. I’ve been involved in a lot more things than Ultimate Frisbee on campus and I’ve noticed [that with] this year especially…even as we sort of come out of the harshest restrictions, involvement is down almost across the board,” he stated.
Despite this, Lawrence-Devine stated that Ultimate Frisbee will be continuing to hold practice and attend tournaments around the PNW this year. He encouraged everyone to join, and emphasized that previous experience is not necessary: “we meet every Friday at 4 p.m. on the Quad…it’s incredibly low stakes. We get people who have never touched a frisbee before and people who have been playing since middle school,” he said.
As a whole, clubs at Willamette seem to be faring pretty well post-pandemic, in spite of low membership problems and the many other challenges COVID restrictions present.
Gus Gunter (‘23), vice president of Nerf Club, expressed optimism that the club will continue to thrive, as they have started to see an uptick in membership over the past year. He also reiterated an idea that many of the other clubs have also stated—that everyone is welcome to come and have fun: “There are a lot of people coming in with absolutely no experience…we give them a little intro and they play a couple games and they have fun. And they come back!” Nerf Club meets Saturdays at 6pm in Smullin.
Overall, this supportive environment seems to be what Willamette clubs are holding onto as they rebuild their membership after a very trying two years. If you’re interested in joining any of the clubs mentioned in this article, or any other organizations on campus for that matter, a full [list of club descriptions and leadership contacts] is available on the Willamette website, and, as Lawrence-Devine mentioned, “anyone is welcome.”