Despite the postponement of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s annual street festival, Big Red Welcome will continue for first-year students this fall with new changes and updates.
Rachel Lindhart, the orientation coordinator in the New Student Enrollment Office, said in an email that she coordinates Big Red Welcome planning initiatives. Lindhart said the activities, like Historic Night Walk and Commuter Student Welcome, begin the evening of Aug. 13 to align with the move-in schedule.
Signature Big Red Welcome programs, developed by each of the four Big Red Welcome sub-committees, Academics, Care, Communications and Connections include more than 75 different events, activities and initiatives, according to Lindhart.
“Ultimately the goals of [Big Red Welcome] are to provide a platform for new students to make friends, learn campus and build skills and confidence,” Lindhart said in an email.
The majority of Big Red Welcome programming ends after Aug. 23, except for a few additional events continuing through the first few weeks of the fall semester, according to Lindhart.
Veronica Riepe, director of Student Involvement and a committee member for Big Red Welcome, said events this year are either completely virtual, in-person with numerous precautions and procedures or a hybrid of both.
The street festival is usually held in the Memorial Stadium loop the Sunday evening before classes begin, according to Lindhart. The festival was planned to take place Aug. 16 but is postponed, according to Lindhart.
Lindhart said the decision to postpone the street festival was a result of many of the vendor partners experiencing other hardships, like reduced budgets, lower levels of staffing or changes in operations related to the COVID-19 pandemic that have prevented their participation.
“Because a critical number of vendor partners are unable to host a booth, we are postponing the street festival until we can provide students a more successful and comprehensive introduction to what our community has to offer,” Lindhart said.
Lindhart said she will work with vendors in the coming weeks to learn more about the challenges they face and work with them to reschedule the street festival for a later date.
Big Red Welcome’s planning teams worked to develop a comprehensive and hybridized schedule of events that work toward their goals for new students and preserve the spirit of Big Red Welcome, while protecting the health and safety of the UNL community, according to Lindhart.
Lindhart said the planning teams adapted the original schedule they started planning in April to place an emphasis on small group activities, hosting events in outdoor spaces, utilizing virtual or hybrid events and increasing structure and diligence in line management, check-in processes, traffic flow and sanitization stations.
Social distancing will be practiced during Big Red Welcome and facial coverings will be worn at each event in accordance with UNL’s face covering policy, according to Lindhart. Hand sanitizer stations will be available, Riepe said, and objects that more than one person will touch, like some of the games at the Party at the Union event, will be disinfected between use.
All decisions and modifications were informed by local, state and university guidelines, including the event guidelines published in UNL’s “Forward to Fall Guiding Framework,” according to Lindhart.
Event organizers and planners of events with more than 50 attendees are required to formally file the Event Risk Assessment and receive approval from the vice chancellor for business and finance, and each of Big Red Welcome’s larger events will have pursued avenues for risk mitigation and event approval, according to Lindhart.
At events, Lindhart said Big Red Welcome committee members will use a check-in system to collect attendance for contact tracing.
Riepe said Playfair will be entirely online this year and other events may have a virtual component and an in-person component, and students can choose which part they want to participate in.
The Party at the Union will start outside to better maintain social distancing, according to Riepe. Within the Nebraska Union, Riepe said people will be spread out and there will not be student organization booths lining the walls inside the Nebraska Union this year.
Some events, like the Chancellor’s Barbeque, have been cancelled, according to Riepe. Riepe said the event would not be able to occur because there is not a way to host 3,000 to 4,000 people on the green space safely.
Traditionally, the tunnel walk, where first-year students run onto the Memorial Stadium Field and form an “N” for the class photo, would follow the Chancellor’s Barbeque and New Student Convocation, Lindhart said.
Lindhart said there is not a way to safely bring thousands of students together for this photo, so Big Red Welcome’s planning teams are using new students’ NCard photos to create an “N” collage for the Class of 2024, which will be overlaid onto a photo of the field to create a similar effect.
The photo will be shared via the Big Red Welcome website and university social media platforms, according to Lindhart.
Lindhart said many new activities have been added this year, like the Husker 9-to-Find Scavenger Hunt, Wellness Fest and small group or independent activities like TikTok Takeover or Take and Make painting.
“We recognize the incoming class is coming to campus after nearly six months of change, uncertainty, disappointment and ‘virtual’ everything,” Lindhart said. “The needs and desires of this year’s class will be different than last year’s, and we are rising to meet those needs.”
Despite the changes made this year to Big Red Welcome, Lindhart said it will still be a fun experience for UNL students to partake in.
“It will certainly look a little different on the surface as we uphold social distancing and wear facial coverings in an effort to keep our community safe, but the heart of our mission remains and students will have a lot of fun along the way,” Lindhart said.