Winona State University’s club fair occurred virtually for the first time last week to mostly mixed reviews. The event was offered via Zoom over the course of three days with 20-30 clubs represented each day. In previous years before COVID-19, the club fair offered a bustling in-person activity at the center of campus. Many students would flood the area to check out more than 100 club booths, which often offered some sort of candy or treat to people.
Associate Director of Student Activities and Leadership, Tracy Rahim, commented that the club fair had to be virtual due to the indoor capacity limit for events.
“Right now, the governor has a mandate that for indoor events you can only have up to 150 people,” Rahim said. “So not knowing how many club representatives on top of the student participants there would be, we needed to do it in a virtual atmosphere.”
Some students criticized the virtual format of the fair and believe there could have been measures taken to have the club fair safely in person.
“We could stretch it [the club fair] out easily into several days and have only a few clubs at a time,” Kellie Kozak, third-year student and secretary of the WSU Pre-Medical Club said.
Fourth-year student Alea Charlier is Co-President of the Public Health Club and she commented how the club fair would have been better if it were done in-person.
“They should have done it like how they did in the beginning of the year. Just wear masks, the chairs were socially distanced, only two people were allowed per table. You need people walking by that might not be interested but might become if you start a conversation with them,” Charlier said.
Other students were more optimistic and forgiving of the club fair’s new virtual medium stating the flexibility and safety as beneficial. Two students, second-year Mackenzie Jackson and third-year Amber Gunderson, from the Communication Studies Club said that the virtual club fair was “the best they could do.”
“I think it [the virtual club fair] is the best they could have done given their circumstances,” Jackson said.
Gunderson pointed out how Minnesota weather can be unpredictable, and it would have been hard to bank on good weather for an outdoor club fair in March.
“There’s no guarantee on the weather here. So, I feel like waiting to plan it outside would have made it [the club fair] more unorganized. You never know, what if it rains outside?” Gunderson said.
Charlier disagreed, saying the club fair wouldn’t take that much time to plan and set up.
“I don’t feel like it’s that much planning, I’ve been around the block on this many times. All you need is a table and chairs and to communicate where you want those chairs to be. and they communicate that,” Charlier said. “It really could have been easily changed to outside even last minute.”
Rahim commented that the primary goal of this club fair and others are to help clubs recruit new members.
“We planned a three-day virtual club fair for clubs to up the ante on some of their recruiting. I know that they’ve had a very difficult time, in a lot of respects, getting new members to join this year given all of the COVID circumstances,” Rahim said.
Unfortunately, the club fair did not attract as many students as hoped. Clubs like The Public Health Club, Winona State Film Club, Pre-Medical Club and Communication Studies Club attracted less than a handful of students each, over the three days.
“Numbers were a little lower than what we hoped for for student participants,” Rahim said.
Gunderson comments that the lower number of participants in the virtual club fair is due to
“People don’t like Zoom. For class you go on Zoom every day and then there is an activity you can go to on Zoom as well,” Gunderson said. “ I don’t think a majority of people want to
Charlier also commented that Zoom was a major factor in the event’s unpopularity.
“They did a really good job of promoting the virtual club fair and communicating it via email, but it’s just because it was Zoom no one was interested in it,” Charlier said.
Kozak, representing Pre-Medical Club, commented that she doubts that very many, if any clubs, got new members as a result of the virtual club fair.
“I don’t think clubs are getting new members because of this fair. I know of our new members we have gotten this semester, it has been by word of mouth, by our virtual sign and one or two people emailed us,” Kozak said. “When someone is looking for a club, I feel like they are doing their own work to find the information they need rather than kind of passively coming.”
The consensus on the club fair is that while there were good intentions, a virtual club fair just does not compare to an in-person fair. Charlier goes as far as to call the virtual club fair ‘A major flop.’
Rahim shared her hopes for the club fair to be back outside again in person next fall for Homecoming and Welcome Week.