Student orgs with mixed feelings on Pitt in-person event guidelines

Global Brigades, a health and sustainability student organization at Pitt, that decided to transition into in-person meetings this year.

Image courtesy of Amaan Rahman

Global Brigades, a health and sustainability student organization at Pitt, that decided to transition into in-person meetings this year.

By Grace Stringer, Staff Writer

Even though student organizations are allowed to have in-person meetings and events, one thing is stopping Annika Agarwal’s club, Mind Sense, from doing so the lack of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from Pitt. 

“It’s really unfortunate that the University is not requiring vaccination,” Agarwal, sophomore anthropology major and outreach chair for Mind Sense said. “I think if everyone was vaccinated we’d all feel way more comfortable [in person].”

The Student Organization Resource Center began allowing in-person activities and events in the spring, with certain caveats, such as club leaders submitting the appropriate Activity Request Form for all activities, events and travel, which had to be approved by the vice provost and the dean of students.

While the form is no longer required, University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said students must abide by the University’s current health guidelines this year during activities and events, such as wearing a mask indoors. If guests from outside the University attend these events, they must complete a registration form.

Despite the in-person option, student organizations like Mind Sense, a meditation and spiritual wellness club that strives for an overall feeling of content in life, have decided to continue with online meetings and events. Agarwal said her club does not need to be in person.

“The online transition is actually sometimes even way more convenient,” Agarwal said. “I think for the most part, people are more comfortable with [meetings] online.”

Agarwal said if Mind Sense decided to continue as a hybrid club, they would require more protections against COVID-19 than the University does, such as both wearing masks and social distancing even outside and said the club would not meet indoors.

Harshitha Ramanan, president of Student Government Board, said the board noticed student organizations had low attendance rates at meetings and events due to their virtual status last year. In response to this, she said SGB will begin advertising organizations on SGB’s social media accounts and in their newsletters to increase student engagement.

“People lost motivation throughout the year because everything was on Zoom,” Ramanan said. “We really want to get away from that and help students find their home at Pitt.”

According to Ramanan, an SGB representative will email 20-30 organizations every week to introduce the board and ask how they can collaborate to increase student engagement and participation with the organization.

“More information will be going out to student organizations in slow sets, but of course anyone’s always welcome to come and ask us,” Ramanan said.

Global Brigades, a health and sustainability organization, decided to transition into in-person meetings this year. Amaan Rahman, a senior Spanish major and campus chairperson for Global Brigades, said the University’s push for COVID-19 vaccinations is a major reason for their club’s decision to return to in-person events.

“As a club leader, it’s the biggest thing,” Rahman said. “We need to be in person, and getting people vaccinated allows us to do that safely.”

According to Rahman, Global Brigades needs to be in person. Last year, when almost all student organization meetings and events were held online, he said the organization was unable to follow through with volunteering projects, such as making reusable menstrual pads, as they had in previous years. Now, Rahman said the organization will be allowed to follow through with their volunteer and travel activities as they did before the pandemic.

“Our organization is meant to be in person,” Rahman said. “It’s meant to be face to face with people you’ve never met and to try to make some kind of sustainable, realistic difference in their life.”

Rahman said the organization will strictly follow the rules set forth by SORC without any additional precautions. He said his organization has more than 150 members, and they plan to have additional members at their meetings with the start of the new school year. Rahman said the organization will have all indoor, in-person meetings. 

Despite the excitement to get back to in-person club meetings, Ramanan said the current health guidelines for student organizations could change based on the rate at which COVID-19 cases rise or fall on campus within the next month.

“With the possible rise of COVID rates because so many people are gathering, then [guidelines] might change,” Ramanan said. “But if people are gathering in large groups and nothing is really happening … then we are in good shape to continue as was before the pandemic.”

In order for student organizations to succeed this year, Ramanan said it is important that students take initiative to be safe by wearing masks and washing their hands often. She said this way, COVID-19 cases will remain low on campus and student organizations can continue to meet in person.

“It would be really great to ensure that we still have that social component,” Ramanan said. “We’re no longer social distancing, but actually getting to know each other, once again.”