After nearly a year of hosting events virtually, some groups on campus are ready to be back in person given the easing of some restrictions under Phase 4.
Student Government is excited to expand on previously-canceled plans for Mental Health Awareness Week according to Kaitlyn Kyle, a senior international studies major from Dupo, Illinois and external affairs officer for Student Government.
“We traditionally have an event called I Have a Reason, which is typically a night of testimonials from students all over campus sharing their mental health stories,” Kyle said. “Because of COVID, it got canceled last year, so this year we’re shifting it to a full week of events, focusing on mindfulness practices, healthy eating … every aspect of mental health awareness that isn’t just your traditional going to counseling or therapy.”
Kyle said that Student Government has planned a blend of virtual and in-person events for that week, which range in subject matter.
“Some of the events we have planned are pre-recorded Zoom classes about eating healthy and meal preparation, we plan to do some crisis intervention training and have a virtual panel with local resources to talk about where students can get help,” Kyle said. “We also plan to have various exercise spaces, tabling events with resources [and] tabling events for people to just stop by and share their stories, or get a positive note and get some nice goodies.”
Matthew Burgess, a sophomore chemistry major from Girard, Illinois and President of SIUE’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said the group has some tentative in-person plans.
“[There’s] potential this semester that the Gay-Straight Alliance is going to be hosting a couple in-person events,” Burgess said. “We were thinking like an outside Night Walk event, where it’s a social walk … it’s just for meeting and greeting, though we don’t expect that to exceed 10-15 people.”
Burgess is also the secretary for Students for Liberty, a group he said hasn’t planned any in-person events for the semester as it was created just before the pandemic and has operated virtually.
Sarah Laux, associate director for the Kimmel Student Involvement Center, said Phase 4 has made event planning easier for the Kimmel staff.
“Before Phase 4, we were pretty virtual,” Laux said. “We’ve been able to expand the programs or the types of things that we can offer, because it’s a lot easier to program for 50 people or 50 percent capacity versus only 10 or fewer — or none.”
Laux said the Kimmel staff is excited to host some in-person leadership programs that were previously canceled last February due to mitigations at the time; while specific dates are being determined, they will likely take place in March and April.
Burgess said in his experience, planning events virtually is much easier.
“When it comes to a virtual event, you can send a message out a week before … so it’s really easy, it takes no time at all to plan something like that,” Burgess said. “But for the in-person event, typically it would take a student organization three, four weeks to plan an in-person event, and then the school requires that you send in an action plan … two weeks prior, which is reasonable, but … it makes it a lot more stressful, because that four weeks turns into six weeks, because we’ve got to add those two additional weeks you have to have it fully planned by.”
Kyle said she anticipates having events in person will increase student engagement.
“I think … hosting things in person just [brings] more awareness to the issue, and of course, we want our students to actually feel more involved,” Kyle said. “Trying to get the involvement initially will be a little bit harder, but I think a lot of people will be very excited for it, I’m very excited for it.”
According to Burgess, the Gay-Straight Alliance’s reluctance to finalize their in-person plans comes from past experience.
“The hesitancy is that if we do plan to do some in-person event, we may end up having to cancel it like we have our past three different in-person events that we’ve planned,” Burgess said. “The one that we did have this year, it was a previous Night Walk last semester … it did appear successful from what I heard, but I mean, we’ve had one successful in-person event out of the four or five that we’ve planned.”
While Laux said she understands regulations have been unpredictable for student organizations, the Kimmel staff is doing all it can to communicate effectively.
“Through no fault of anyone, just the circumstances going on, with increasing [positivity] rates, it can feel like a rollercoaster of, ‘Okay, which letter, which number phase are we in?’” Laux said. “We have been trying to get information to our student organizations as quickly as we can, because we know there are inevitably questions of, ‘What does this mean for our event?’ or, ‘What does this mean for our organization?’ so I’m sure it has been confusing, and I’m sure it’s been frustrating, as it has for us as well … we’re just trying to do what we can to keep promoting campus life in a safe way.”