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Clubs and COVID-19: How first years are navigating extracurriculars during the pandemic

COVID-19 has posed a unique set of challenges for the Class of 2024.

First-years have had to grow accustomed to online classes and the new socially distanced rhythms of college life. Extracurricular activities play a critical role in building community, and first-years have had to navigate student groups in an unprecedented format. 

Virtually all extracurricular activities this semester have been held online. The activities fair was held on DukeGroups, where first years were left on their own to scroll through lists of different activities they could join. 

First-year Annie Zhang said that she recently joined the competitive K-pop dance team Pureun. The audition involved prospective members recording and submitting clips of themselves dancing to different choreographies.

Zhang said that the online audition process allowed an opportunity for surprise. 

“[The Pureun members] told me something was wrong with my audition submission, so I needed to do an interview to complete my submission,” Zhang said. “It was a Zoom meeting, and they were like, ‘How would you feel if we told you you got into Pureun?’ and I started screaming.”

First-years said they lament the lost opportunities to connect with people in excurricular settings without COVID-19. Sonali Sanjay, a first-year and member of the South Asian classical music group Duke Sangeet, said that the whole appeal of singing and dancing groups is being able to engage in person.

“Maybe because the in-person aspect isn’t there anymore, some people would be more hesitant to join these kinds of clubs,” she said. 

First-year Aaron Price said that his online extracurricular experience makes him wonder how he would have balanced his busy schedule if everything was in person. 

“My plans [for college] have been pretty similar even during the pandemic, but I don’t know how I would manage all of my clubs and classes if everything was in person,” he said. 

Club involvement is especially challenging for students living in different timezones. 

First-year Axelle Miel is studying remotely in the Philippines, which is 12 hours ahead of Duke. Miel said that most of the general board meetings or information sessions for a club she’s in are held between 5 and 7 p.m., which is 5 to 7 a.m. for her. 

“As much as I want to participate in game nights and general board meetings, sometimes I really can’t get myself to wake up in time,” Miel wrote in a message to The Chronicle. “I wish people had more empathy for students working in different timezones.” 

Student group leaders are also adapting to the demands of COVID-19. 

Junior Ben Chen, president of Scale and Coin, said the group’s recruitment process went well despite a few kinks along the way. 

“I felt like I got to know the freshmen and sophomores pretty well through the breakout rooms, so that was a pleasant surprise,” he said. “I think we tried to replicate the fun aspect as much as we could. For example, we hosted a trivia night so everyone could have fun with a collaborative game.” 

Chen also said that there were significantly more students who rushed than in past years. 

“It could be that there are lower barriers to entry going to an event when you can just click [to join a Zoom meeting],” he said. 

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