ASU cultural organizations adjust to COVID-19 restrictions

Cultural clubs are working to expand social media presence and stay connected with students living in different countries

Social distancing guidelines at ASU have temporarily brought most in-person club meetings to a halt, and with them, some popular, long-running events held by cultural clubs that would typically bring together hundreds of students to celebrate.

The Indian Students' Association has moved its general meetings to Zoom to connect with several hundred members learning remotely in India and wish to keep in touch with other members through planned online activities.

According to Nithiya Uppara, graduate computer science major and vice president of ISA, it has been difficult to manage the technical difficulties of an online setting with over 100 participants.

“It is not possible that the network is good every time and Zoom does not give you much option,” Uppara said. “When the number of people start increasing, the network decreases.”

At the beginning of every fall semester, Uppara said student volunteers of ISA organize transportation and temporary housing accommodations for more than 300 international students moving to Arizona from India. 

But with COVID-19, Uppara said many Indian students decided to study remotely in India, which reduced the need for this outreach. For those who did return to campus, ISA and ASU provided members with coupons for transportation from the airport to their housing in Arizona, Uppara said.

“We want to make sure that incoming students know that there’s some organization that can be helpful (to them),” Uppara said.

READ MORE: Insight: International students endure heightened homesickness in pandemic

For some clubs, recruiting new members online has been difficult.

Koshi Obukuro, sophomore computer science major and a new member of the Japanese Student Association (JSA), said despite having several social media accounts advertising their event, attendance at the club's first online orientation had only five members.

"It's not that bad," Obukuro said. "But it's hard to make friends in my situation because you don't interact with people (because) there is not as many people coming to online events."

The Korean American Student Association has had similar experiences with moving events online. Danoh Lee, junior psychology major and president of the association, said the club had planned several gatherings for the spring semester, including a bonding weekend with UA's KASA chapter, those events were canceled after ASU transitioned to online instruction due to the coronavirus.

“I think that a lot of students might not feel safe,” Lee said. “I myself (wouldn’t) feel safe if I was in an in-person environment with lots of people. We’re really just adapting ways where we can replace what we were already doing last semester through an online means.”

According to Grace Kim, a sophomore marketing major and vice president of KASA, KASA leaders planned to build their online presence to attract new members and offer returning members a space to engage with each other remotely. 

The club focused on updating its Instagram and utilizing a Discord server as its main forms of communication for club meetings, game nights and other online social events.  

“Meeting people online, it is inherently going to be harder to feel comfortable like you’re actually interacting or bonding with someone or getting to know someone as opposed to if you’re face to face,” Lee said. “What we’re doing online feels as intimate as we can make it.”

In addition to moving general meetings online, clubs have had to cancel or redesign major events and outreaches that are normally held in person every year.

Traditionally, ISA hosts Jhankaar, an event in the fall where they showcase different aspects of the Indian culture such as dance, comedy and music. At the event, the club also celebrates Diwali, the festival of lights, by lighting candles and sharing the cultural significance of the celebration with around 500 participants at ASU Gammage.

READ MORE: The ISA hosts 'Jhankaar,' exposing new people to India's vastness

In the spring semester, ISA also celebrates Holi, the festival of colors. According to the ISA website, more than 1,000 participants celebrate the arrival of spring by throwing colored powders and water as they would in India. 

Now, due to COVID-19, these traditional Indian events hosted by ISA have been canceled until further notice.

JSA plans on hosting an educational event next semester to teach participants more about Japanese culture. According to Obukuro, the event will likely be online, depending on ASU's reopening plans in the future.

"We gotta do what we gotta do," Obukuro said. "We're obeying orders."

For now, cultural clubs plan on continuing to meet online and remodel their usual activities to accommodate ASU's changing COVID-19 response.

"You just have to adapt to the online environment," Lee said. "It's something new and something maybe you don't want to do or bother with because it's annoying but once you get rolling and get adapted to this new situation, I don't think it's as bad."


Reach the reporter at kncasti1@asu.edu and follow @kristencasti11o on Twitter. 

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