Nearly a year ago, thousands of college students danced for 12 straight hours alongside families from Omaha’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. Each hour, the group joined together in tears and hugs as stories were shared and friends were made. Now, amid an ongoing pandemic, waves from afar will replace hugs, and families will be joining virtually for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dance Marathon, HuskerThon 2021.
With the recent COVID-19 regulations, Recognized Student Organizations like Dance Marathon will be expected to check in-person event attendees for building access on their Safer Community App. With utilization of the recent regulations, students will be able to continue connecting in-person safely.
Melissa Griffith Phelps, Student Involvement’s assistant director for student organizations, said attendees who are not part of the university’s testing system will have to complete a questionnaire on the University of Nebraska-Medical Center 1-Check COVID app and show they have received a probability result of “low” in order to enter an event. Any other result will deny the individual entry to the event.
“Generally speaking, regulations from the fall have carried forward to the spring but are always being reviewed for accuracy and practicality,” Griffith Phelps said.
The latest change RSOs will experience affects events with 50 or more individuals. Griffith Phelps said UNL adopted a new approval timeline requiring all event approvals to be completed at least seven days prior to the event. Attendees must also wear a facial covering both indoors and outdoors, compared to previous semester where face coverings were only required indoors.
Peyton Bash, the executive director of UNDM, said these requirements will still allow the club to make its yearly HuskerThon event possible with only a few hiccups along the way. UNDM is a non-profit organization that raises money throughout the year to support the children’s hospital.
So far, Bash said UNDM has 1,156 UNL students signed up, along with nearly 30 miracle kids from the hospital. In order to fit this many individuals, Bash said the event typically takes place in multiple rooms in the Nebraska Union.
This year, the group will be moving to the Cook Pavillion to accommodate social distancing while providing an event for as many people as possible. The event will also only be eight hours long, as opposed to the typical 12.
“It will have both a hybrid and in-person component to it,” Bash said. “If someone doesn’t feel comfortable coming to the event, then they are more than welcome to get a specific YouTube live link for the event. And they can be live streamed into what’s going on and feel part of it that way.”
Those who choose to come in-person will be asked to get a UNL COVID-19 test in the week prior. Leading up to the event, Bash said the staff of about 220 has been meeting virtually and in-person. Instead of meeting in one room, they have to split up between East Campus and City Campus to include as many people as possible.
“There will be Zoom links sent out to those who need it, but we’re not going to give those out unless you need it, to encourage people to be together. We feel like that part of Dance Marathon is getting to know people and getting to see and do things like that,” Bash said.
Just like their HuskerThon event, Bash said individuals have to show their Access Granted pass to attend meetings as well.
Besides adjusting to relocating and social distancing, Bash said the hardest part as a UNDM leader is motivating people to fundraise and plan ahead.
“[New participants] have never had a taste of what a dance marathon is, and we don’t get to be with the kids and the miracle family,” Bash said. “We haven’t really gotten that face to face interaction with miracle kids besides maybe a Zoom call with them. And because of that, I think we’ve had a harder time keeping that in the focus and the kids in the focus.”
As an RSO leader, Bash also struggles as regulations change.
“It’s been hard to plan anything and plan ahead,” Bash said. “I might have a plan for weeks in the future and two weeks in the future, the university guidelines might change and we’ll have to change the event completely in that two weeks.”
One example of the difficulties of guidelines, Bash said, is contracts with any organization or business they are working with such as their food vendors. If HuskerThon ends up able to host more students, Bash said they can’t renegotiate contracts for more food than originally planned.
Vintage Audio Video Club, another RSO on campus, is also navigating its way through planning events and food. The club meets weekly and discusses physical media such as vinyl records, laserdiscs, VHS tapes and newer formats such as DVD and Blu-Ray. The group also helps people troubleshoot and repair older machines.
The club’s vice president, Kyle Otto, said in previous years, their group would order food and drinks to serve during meetings. With the COVID-19 regulations and food policies, Otto said they are required to order individually-cut pizza slices from Valentino’s in the Union. Each piece is packaged in cardboard containers, similar to pizza served during sporting events.
“We are very thankful for them to be willing to work with us and come up with a COVID-safe solution for us to serve at our meetings. This keeps us in compliance and our members get to keep enjoying pizza and Pepsi,” Otto said.
Typically, VAVC meets in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center or on the second floor of the Nebraska Union. With COVID-19, Otto said their location has varied as UNL has reserved larger rooms for the group to social distance depending on the amount of attendees.
“Our attendance is usually on the smaller side, with five to eight attendees, so luckily we have not had to make drastic changes due to COVID-19,” Otto said. “We have been given enough room to social distance and follow the UNL masking policy during meetings.”
VAVC has also required attendees to show their Safer Community app to reduce the chances of the virus spreading.
“This is just another step we take to making sure we are being cautious and a safe place for people to meet,” Otto said.
Whether RSOs are looking to host events for over a thousand students like HuskerThon or smaller meetings like VAVC, Griffith Phelps said there is a great deal of organizations hosting both virtual and safe in-person events for recruitment and general meetings. Through all the changes, she said that the Student Involvement office has evidence to suggest the number of UNL students involved in RSOs has continued to remain steady, with a slight increase, when compared to years prior.
“I am incredibly grateful to our RSOs for dedicating their time and energy to keeping our campus community active and vibrant,” Griffith Phelps said.