New COVID-19 restrictions transform how campus organizations operate

Mercer University’s campus organizations are preparing for the upcoming school year under COVID-19 with new safety guidelines and precautions. 

MerServe, a service club that plans community outreach projects in the Macon area, is one of the organizations on campus that has changed drastically in response to Mercer Campus Life’s new safety guidelines. 

“Our main goal is to make sure our volunteers and community partners are healthy and safe,” Sally Deitchman, MerServe’s president, said in a message to The Cluster. “All volunteers will be required to wear masks and we will have hand sanitizer at any in person service events. We are minimizing touch materials such as sign-in sheets and will provide gloves for any shared tools that may be used in service events, such as paintbrushes or rakes.”

For many clubs on Mercer’s campus, the coronavirus pandemic has presented all sorts of new and never-before-seen challenges, adding significant unknowns for clubs organizing events and activities that would be uncomplicated under regular circumstances. 

Mercer’s incoming freshmen class experienced some of the newest restrictions placed on campus events and organizations through the university’s first virtual Bear Fair, an event traditionally held in person at the University Center on campus, where new students can learn more about Mercer’s clubs and organizations. 

This year’s Bear Fair was held Monday evening with the current freshmen class downloading a virtual world via a link emailed to them, according to Mercer’s website. Students were able to navigate themselves around to different virtual booths where club representatives could tell them more about their organizations. 

Virtual events like these display the new ways in which campus life will adapt in the coming months in response to the pandemic, with many traditional in-person events being altered in varying ways to follow COVID-19 guidelines. 

At MerServe, safety initiatives under the pandemic include smaller in-person service projects and more outdoor service opportunities, Deitchman said. 

For QuadWorks a campus organization that hosts campus wide social events for students they will be implementing safety measures similar to MerServe for this coming semester. 

“We are hosting a combination of online and in-person events that follow campus guidelines,” Savannah Jones, QuadWorks’ president, said in a message to The Cluster. “We have changed a lot in order to follow new procedures in order to keep everyone safe.”

QuadWorks will also be following Campus Life’s safety guidelines for their events, including masks, social distancing, providing hand sanitizer and pre-packaged food or professionally-served food to attendees and hosting outdoor gatherings whenever possible, Jones said. 

However, the organizations’ safety measures extend past their events and also impact how their leadership teams will be operating this year. 

“One characteristic that I love about the MerServe board is the close-knit bonds that are formed. We are looking at more ways to engage with the board in order to compensate for our missed in person connections,” Deitchman said. “We are going to be implementing Zoom bonding activities to help cultivate board relationships that are just as close and successful as the previous board.”

QuadWorks’ board meetings will be held virtually as well with minimal use of their office on campus. Even so, they have “implemented strict cleaning procedures” in their office, Jones said. 

“As the President, I see this as an opportunity to grow and adapt,” Jones said. “Our board members have been amazing at adapting to the new requirements and procedures and are planning a fantastic year for us.”

Regardless of the additional restrictions each organization must navigate, many aspects of their work and events remain similar. 

“While moving online has been an adjustment, we are confident we can still provide amazing events for our students whether that be online or in-person,” Jones said. “We are hoping to push our creativity in order to have fun, safe events for our students.”

MerServe will partner with organizations such as the United Way of Central Georgia, Daybreak and Middle Georgia Community Food Bank, giving students both in-person and virtual ways to give back to the Macon community. 

These remote service opportunities include virtual reading tutoring through “Read 2 Succeed,” pen pal programs and skill-sharing events, where attendees can both teach and learn new skills, Deitchman said.

“We will be hosting many of our signature events, but we look forward to reimagining them,” she said. “These opportunities will allow for students who may be immunocompromised, have pre-existing health conditions or simply do not feel comfortable with in person events the opportunity to continue to serve the community.”