Spring 2022 clubs were virtual mostly due to ‘damaged’ event spaces

Emanuela Gallo, Editor-in-Chief

Baruch College’s student organizations were not permitted to hold in-person events during spring 2022, causing most student life to remain virtual despite in-person classes returning last fall.

“Club life still remaining mostly virtual is a continuing unfortunate circumstance of our current pandemic life but I really feel that Baruch clubs have done their best to make the most out of this situation this past year,” Undergraduate Student Government Chair of Clubs and Organizations Snigdha Sarker said in an email statement.

The Office of Student Life permitted clubs to table using a “rolling reservation” schedule beginning this semester. Tabling occurred in the second-floor lobby of the William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

However, students were not allowed to reserve rooms for events due to limited usable spaces, according to Director of Student Life Damali Tolson.

CUNY and New York State policy prohibited in-person events during the fall 2021 semester, according to Tolson.

“We had to wait until CUNY allowed us to have events, but even when they allowed us to have events, we legitimately have no physical place to put the events,” she said.

OSL has access to rooms on the first, second and third floors. The majority of event spaces, which are on the third floor, are “damaged,” Tolson said.

Since last fall, OSL has taken steps such as removing leftover food, allowing alumni to pick up belongings and organizing surface-level cleaning.

However, there are still significant issues including water leaks and damage, and furniture in need of replacement.

“I wish we had more space,” Tolson said. “If we had more space, this would not be an issue.”

OSL hasn’t purchased new furniture yet due to supply chain issues, Tolson said. OSL plans to place orders when the 2022-2023 fiscal year begins in July and expects to receive them by the fall.

On the second floor, OSL has rooms 2-125 and 2-110. The former became the meditation and prayer room, while the latter was used for senior portraits for the yearbook.

There is the Multipurpose Room on the first floor in 1-107,  which is now used partly as a COVID-19 testing center. For the remaining space, OSL only permitted USG and Graduate Student Assembly to use it for pop-ups or events.

“There would be no way for us to equitably say one club can get an event and then another club can’t have an event,” Tolson said. “We want it to be equitable across the board.”

OSL opened offices in the club suite on the third floor in October 2021, with the exception of damaged rooms. There was a reservation system for students to use them as  private spaces for studying or Zoom calls.

However, Tolson said it was shut down in February after people began entering unsafe rooms with keys passed down from alumni and former club members.

“We tried,” she said. “Then we realized Public Safety kept giving us reports of students being in rooms they weren’t supposed to be.”

Over the summer, OSL will rekey about 20 club rooms.

“I think that we still have a way to go before club life becomes exactly what it used to be, considering how integral it is to creating friendships on Baruch’s campus, but this is a good start and I expect even more barriers eased for clubs in the Fall,” Sarker said.

In a survey sent out by The Ticker, club members unanimously said they wished club events were in person this semester.

“Many students have been robbed of their college experience,” African Student Association President Sarah Shafik said. “The student life on Baruch campus is what gives them that experience and they have yet to know what that feels like.”

Club leaders reported declining engagement, lost sense of community and limited event types.

Association for Information Systems President Helen Ng Chang said the club’s Python Workshop, held virtually in March, would have benefitted “immensely” from being in-person. “It’s easier to help troubleshoot other participants’ problems if we were able to walk over to students on a case-by-case basis while the presenter taught the workshop,” she said.

She’s The First President Arianne Gonzalez said she wished the club’s letter writing workshop could have been in-person.

“It would have encouraged people to actually write physical letters and submit them through a dropbox that we would have collected,” she said.

If in-person, students would’ve attended events such as fashion shows by Women Empowerment For Success and ASA, a mock wedding by Bangladesh Student Association and a “spring fling” event by WBMB Baruch Radio.

Two years of virtual student life especially impacted clubs that struggled to operate and maintain an audience virtually due to their nature, such as Baruch Archery, Lexington Music and Baruch Dance Club.

Tolson said OSL will help students that wish to bring back already-chartered clubs, but the initiative must be student-led.

“Some clubs may never come back,” Tolson said. “But there might be new clubs that start that are more responsive to the student needs.”

Tolson encouraged students to “hold on” until the fall, saying that OSL plans to host a “big” Welcome Week. She also encouraged students to take their time getting used to an in-person routine.

“We want [club life] to come back,” she said. “That is part of why we come to work everyday. I don’t come to work everyday to sit on Zoom meetings.”

Student life will be in-person in the fall, as long as CUNY and New York State COVID-19 guidelines allow it and club rooms are clean and safe, according to Tolson.

“I cannot wait for everything to be back in-person,” Tolson said. “I totally get it. I miss hearing bake sale out in the lobby. I miss coming out my office, just vibrating with music during club hours.”

Editor’s Note: Arianne Gonzalez, mentioned above, is the arts editor of The Ticker.