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ASW looks to create community in Spring semester with ‘CommUnity Talks’

Students gather in Richer Commons for the ASW Halloween celebration Oct. 29, 2020. The Halloween celebration is an annual event where students can make s’mores, take photos and paint pumpkins. (Photo Courtesy: Olivia Gregg)

Fall semester brought unexpected struggles to many students at Westminster College, including screen-fatigue, lack of motivation and a missing sense of community. While ASW has done its best to combat that, officers report they have faced trials with student involvement at events. 

Despite these challenges, ASW President Obaid Barakzai said he believes ASW has been successful this fall. 

According to its website, ASW’s mission is to “enrich the lives of students attending the college; provide leadership, training, and opportunities for students; and provide a forum for student concerns.”

“Due to witnessing the ugliness of racism and many other injustices this year, ASW has focused a lot more on the issue of redefining inclusion,” said Barakzai, a junior international political economy major. 

Barakzai said ASW reached out to student groups over the summer during their town halls for feedback about when the school reopened in the fall. He said they want to continue to hear student voices as well as introduce them to ASW resources and opportunities that create inclusive opportunities.

He said the effects of COVID-19 made him adapt to learning in new ways. As a result, he’s been able to get closer to the Westminster community.

According to Barakzai, ASW has presented student survey responses to the president, provost, board of trustees and others such as the Gore Diversity and Inclusion Committee to make these changes.

“We have learned to develop new ways to communicate with students and have advocated […] for holding the administration accountable in their flexibility to address student concerns,” Barakzai said. 

Isaac Landau, ASW events president, said trying to plan campus-wide events like they hosted in the past was not possible in a pandemic. Instead, he and his coordinators planned CommUnity Talks and ASW pop-ups to promote communication and student involvement. 

“We’re really having a hard time planning things that are COVID-friendly because I am really worried there could be a serious problem if I plan large events,” Landau said. “But I’ve been doing the small pop-ups and I’ve been getting engagements passively through student involvement.”

The CommUnity talks consist of ASW sending surveys to students to gather questions that the president and college advisers would answer during the event.  

However, Landau said only two students attended the virtual CommUnity Talks meeting.

“The motivation behind the community talks is well-intentioned,” Landau said. “The outreach on behalf of the students is questionable in that, nobody really showed up.”

He expressed concerns that the lack of student turnout was likely due to “Zoom aversion.” 

“I can see how that would play into a lack of a turnout in a CommUnity Talk,” Landau said. “You’ve already spent the day online, so why would you go onto something else?”  

Landau said he is more optimistic about future events. 

“I think that moving forward, they can be a very constructive implementation that ASW can use for promoting change, and more importantly promoting discussion and knowledge,” Landau said.

Landau said that ASW will continue to organize the CommUnity Talks and the ASW pop-ups in the Spring semester. 

“Time is the best thing for ASW events in particular,” Landau said. “Given the time that we have, I plan — and my team plans — on creating events that have action plans associated with them.” 

These CommUnity Talks have been recorded and can be accessed by students at any time at ASW CommUnity Talks

While ASW struggled with students’ attendance, students struggled with the effects of sitting on Zoom all day long. 

“It’s had its ups and downs,” said Carlie Hiatt, junior neuroscience major. “It’s definitely hard adjusting to class being online and just learning through a screen. I’m used to doing labs and study groups in person and now we’re just contained in our rooms looking at a computer screen all day trying to learn.”

Hiatt said at the beginning of the semester, she was excited about online learning. But now she feels drained — worried that she didn’t learn all the material she could have. 

She said she didn’t attend any ASW-sponsored event this semester because she lives off campus, and she found it harder to get motivation to go to them. 

“I think ASW is doing the best with their situation,” Hiatt said. “With COVID and the decreased motivation from students, I think it’s difficult to try and find an event that sounds engaging while also being safe and fun.”

Hiatt suggested involving residence halls would help. 

“This could be a social distanced movie on the lawn,” Hiatt said. “I think any way to get students out of their rooms doing some fun activity for a couple of hours would be beneficial.”

Luke Miller, junior chemistry major, said he feels Westminster’s typical sense of community is missing. 

“I think the whole point of having a community is, everybody is a knowledge-provider and everybody has unique perspectives on things, and they have contributions on things that only they can make,” Miller said. 

Miller said that although he didn’t attend any of the video conference events ASW planned he had signed up for the pop-ups wanting to win the prizes. 

“I feel like I’ve interacted a lot with ASW this year,” Miller said. “I think, considering the circumstances, ASW has been doing a good job engaging with the students.” 

Miller said he wants to see ASW reach out more to students directly to talk about things such as mental health and ask them what they can do for the student body.  

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Lauren Shoughro
Lauren Shoughro is a junior communication major at Westminster College. She specializes in visual communication in media with a focus on graphic design, video production and public speaking. When she isn’t editing, you can find her on Dumke Field playing for Westminster’s Women’s lacrosse team. She is excited to bring her own flare to The Forum’s newspaper and website.

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