Clubs make comeback after pandemic year

Luke Chinman

Williams Ballroom co-presidents Sophia Trone ’24 (left) and Isabel Bushway ’23 (center) teach students with board member Emma Neil ’23 (right) how to dance at Ballroom meetings. Photo courtesy of Lillie Bushway.

When McKenzie Stoker ’22 tried to host a virtual meeting of Get Baked — a club that informally gathers students to make baked goods on Friday nights — at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, not many people came. “We only ended up getting two people to join the Zoom, which is completely understandable,” she said. “So we really just didn’t do anything last year.”

This was the reality for a variety of student organizations last year, as the College’s COVID-19 restrictions limited indoor gatherings, inhibiting clubs’ ability to meet in person. As a result, many clubs, especially ones without a viable pandemic alternative like Get Baked, fizzled out.

However, as the College lifted restrictions on gatherings for the 2021-2022 school year, there has been a large increase in club membership and participation, and many students worked to resume meetings for some of these defunct organizations. 

“This year, there was definitely some renewed interest from people who knew about it last year and who were sophomores this year but didn’t get to participate,” Stoker said about Get Baked. “Even though the pandemic decimated our numbers, we were able to pretty easily get them back.” This was aided by the fact that Get Baked was a part of the virtual 2020 Purple Key Fair, where they were able to collect student information for their email list and get the word out about the club, even if they couldn’t meet that school year, Stoker added.

This reformation, though, wasn’t as simple for Isabel Bushway ’23, co-president of Williams Ballroom. After their final ballroom dance party on March 14, 2020, just before the College sent students home because of the pandemic, it took more momentum for the group to start meeting again. “I had, this year, initially wanted to get it started, but I wasn’t quite sure what the rules were going to be, and so it never really happened,” Bushway said.

It wasn’t until Director of the Jazz Ensemble Kris Allen reached out to Bushway about helping teach students at Swing Night, an event organized by the music department where students can learn to swing dance while Williams Jazz provides live musical accompaniment, that Williams Ballroom got the push it needed, Bushway said. “We kind of got lucky that there was someone else invested in our group because it would have been hard to start without that event,” she added.

“That night, we found a couple of leaders, and people wanted to learn more,” Bushway said. “We sort of used it as a launching point.” Because of the renewed interest in swing dancing — which Bushway attributed to Swing Night — Williams Ballroom now frequently hosts swing dancing lessons in Currier Ballroom on Friday nights, where students learn new steps while jazz plays through a speaker.

Some student groups have also faced challenges restarting clubs because many students involved graduated during the pandemic. Such was the case for Gavin Li ’22, who remembered the group Humans of Williams from his first year at the College and wanted to bring it back to life. “There just wasn’t really a chance to pass down knowledge,” he said.

The group, which profiles members of the College and Town community on Instagram and Facebook modeled off of the Instagram account Humans of New York, was largely inactive during the pandemic. Li, however, felt that it was worth reviving. “A few weeks ago, I realized that this page that I really enjoyed looking at before I came to Williams wasn’t a thing anymore,” he said. “I wanted to bring it back so that future generations could appreciate it and be a part of it.”

After reaching out to the former leadership, Li is now focusing his efforts on ensuring there is enough structure for the organization to continue after he graduates in a few weeks. “A lot of what I’ve been doing these past few weeks is compiling resources and creating scripts and a question bank so that students can learn how to interview and stuff,” he said. “Right now, we’re going through what we want the organization to look like as a group, and we’re imagining it to be some sort of application process where people have to apply.”

Since it has been revitalized, Humans of Williams has also garnered great interest from members of the College community, Li said. “We’re getting messages, and we’re seeing posts on Unmasked about people asking how they can join, and so it seems like there is a huge interest in being a part of this,” he said. “I think a lot of upperclassmen also remember the page, and so I think that’s also why a lot of them were so enthusiastic about joining Humans of Williams because they also share that sentiment of wanting to revive it for future generations as well.”

After a year where clubs have had expanded abilities to meet in person, there is a general desire to return to normalcy — specifically to show underclassman what these organizations looked like prior to the onset of the pandemic. ​​“[We’re trying] to give freshmen some kind of idea of what Get Baked was before the world changed,” Stoker said. 

Jonathan Breibart contributed reporting.