Ally Hansen | Senior Staff Photographer
Many students, such as Ann Kozak, will celebrate their first Pitt homecoming this year without any in-person programming. Kozak said she was looking forward to homecoming activities such as Paint the Town, which will no longer take place this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It stinks because I was really looking forward to painting the town,” Kozak, a first-year pre-pharmacy major, said. “I know that it is a really big tradition.”
Homecoming looks different this year, since students and alumni cannot celebrate in person due to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite this, programming has not diminished, but only changed forms. With the lack of in-person events, both students and alumni must celebrate in other ways, such as showing their Pitt spirit by decorating their residence hall or home, participating in virtual events and utilizing social media.
Alexandra Waltemeyer, the director of campus and constituent relations for the Pitt Alumni Association, said last year’s homecoming entailed 50 to 60 in-person events. Waltemeyer said there are more than 40 virtual events planned for “Stay at Home-coming.”
Pitt’s 16 schools and colleges are hosting virtual programming. Along with the schools and colleges, Waltemeyer said the Pitt Alumni Association is offering six Zoom events, which PAA will stream to YouTube and record in order to make it more accessible to people.
While students can participate in this new virtual programming, they are missing out on traditional homecoming events. Abby Dean, a sophomore biological science major, said her favorite homecoming event to participate in last year was Paint the Town, where students paint storefronts around Oakland to celebrate homecoming. She said she met close friends during this experience, which made her feel connected to the homecoming celebration.
“I met a whole bunch of people that I am still close friends with to this day during Paint the Town,” Dean said. “It made me feel like I was a part of everything that was going on.”
Students may not be able to Paint the Town, but they can still show their spirit in other ways. Students can purchase a special Game Day Pack called “Game Day Pack Homecoming Edition,” either online or in store from The University Store on Fifth and The Pitt Shop. These Game Day Packs include various spirit items such as window markers, face paint and a pompom.
Ashumi Rokadia, the student director for the Student Alumni Association and a Blue and Gold Society ambassador, said students can use the markers in their Game Day Packs to decorate their windows and show their spirit in a safe manner.
“They have towels, face paint, different window markers that you can use to ‘paint the town’ in your residence hall or your South Oakland apartment,” Rokadia, a senior information science major, said. “Instead of having huddles of people painting windows and congregating, we are having people do it on their own.”
Kozak said she and her friends plan to purchase a Game Day Pack to participate in the homecoming festivities.
“Me and my suitemates are going to go down to the University Store to purchase one of the spirit bags that the Student Alumni Association is doing,” Kozak said. “We are going to paint our windows and decorate them.”
Just as students have the option to purchase Game Day Packs, alumni have the similar option to purchase Panther Tailgate Boxes — which include items such as a window sign, buttons, tumblers and other items.
Waltemeyer said the Panther Tailgate Box allows for people to feel connected to Pitt while they hail from home. She said people can purchase a box that best meets their needs, as there is an option to choose between a box catered toward alumni adults or a box catered toward alumni with families.
“This was our way to get some new Pitt swag into people’s hands and keep them feeling connected to the University,” Waltemeyer said. “We did two boxes. One geared toward alumni and one geared toward alumni who might have family. We tried to do something that would meet the needs of everyone.”
Along with virtual events, Waltemeyer said PAA has pooled a list of asynchronous ways for people to connect with Pitt over the next week. This includes activities such as wearing blue and gold, taking a virtual Nationality Room tour and taking a virtual Heinz Chapel tour.
“This year, we put together a page of resources that we call our ‘Hailing from Home’ page,” Waltemeyer said. “It gives a list of some asynchronous ways to help people to engage in homecoming or just connect to the University over the next week.”
Pitt community members can also engage with homecoming celebrations by participating in the spirit contest. Waltemeyer said the spirit contest has shifted to be completely social media-focused this year, with each day having a different prompt. She said PAA is encouraging people to share their photos so that it can then share those photos back through Instagram and Facebook stories.
Homecoming “Spirit of Pitt” candidates also use social media to promote themselves. Rokadia said SAA is using social media to keep students engaged with candidates promoting themselves with videos online. While Rokadia said candidates did this last year, she said these videos now provide one of the only ways that candidates can campaign.
“We are relying very heavily on social media to keep students engaged. Homecoming candidates that are running can promote themselves with a video, which we also did last year,” Rokadia said. “But this year, they are not allowed a table or to do anything in person, so they are only allowed to post on social media.”
Waltemeyer said she hopes the array of celebration methods offered this year will give all of the alumni some way to participate in homecoming that suits them. But she said she knows nothing truly compares to the ability to celebrate together.
“I’m really hopeful that we’re offering things that meet the interest of all of our alumni and give at least everyone something to tune into,” Waltemeyer said. “But I think that, as we’ve all seen in the last year, nothing quite compares to the ability to get together and to be around people with shared experiences and really connect in that way.”
While Dean said homecoming lacks the social element of previous years, she said it still has the same Pitt spirit.
“It’s definitely less social interaction than last year, but it’s still the same spirit,” Dean said. “There may be a pandemic going on, but we’re still Pitt and we’re still all together.”