The New ‘In-Person’

July 27, 2020
Anna Welch
Boston University
My name is Anna Welch, and I am a rising junior at Boston University majoring in public relations with a minor in business administration. I started my university’s chapter of The Diabetes Link this year with a few other students and am currently serving as our chapter’s president. On campus, I am also a member of both Alpha Phi Omega and Sigma Kappa.

Editor’s Note: Learn how to start a chapter of The Diabetes Link at your school here.

Going into quarantine, The Diabetes Link chapter at my school wasn’t exactly a full chapter yet. We were just a small group of students that had first connected in January, but we were all determined to fill the same need at our university. None of us had experienced a community on campus where we had access to other students with type 1 diabetes, so we recognized the importance of building a space where we could create new connections and enable others to do the same.

“We recognized the importance of building a space where we could create new connections and enable others to do the same.”

Our path was definitely unusual; we had to adapt and virtually create our chapter almost entirely through online meetings and texting. We started to make headway during the first month of quarantine when we applied to become affiliated at our university and coincidentally found a great faculty advisor with type 1. However, we also faced many unexpected difficulties with our new, sudden situation: scheduling, connecting in online meetings, and finding new members.

In the first few weeks, Zoom was a new platform to all of us, but we all got used to it rather quickly. I found that the platform lends itself to being accessible and inclusive. In a Zoom meeting, you’re able to see every single person’s face. The option for hosts to share their screen gives a constructive, visual component, especially if you’re able to display an agenda or talking points. Given the circumstances, Zoom has been a fantastic tool to keep on pace and to remain productive.

As far as numbers go, finding new members has been a bit challenging. We are just starting to advertise the chapter to our student body. If we had been in-person, we would have tabled and printed fliers, but we currently only have social media to rely on for exposure. We created an Instagram account and a Facebook group for the chapter, and we have also made awareness posts in class pages on Facebook and in a group for incoming students’ parents.

We’ve been scheduling meetings according to what works for the Executive Board and according to times when we can have introduction meetings with new members. For example, we scheduled a meeting where we met an incoming freshman from India, so we planned the meeting time based on what worked for his time zone. I think just taking things slow and not overwhelming everybody with information or commitment has helped the most. Reaching out personally to students with potential interest in joining the Chapter has also been very helpful. One student was connected to the chapter through The Diabetes Link, but we have also sought out students through personal connections.

“I think just taking things slow and not overwhelming everybody with information or commitment has helped the most.”

I see online meetings as being more of a challenge in terms of forming connections. When I first met Jace, Alyssa, and Rhiannon (the other members of the chapter’s Executive Board), we were swapping stories and joking with each other in the first hour as if we’d been friends for years. While not everyone is this comfortable with sharing personal experiences from the get-go, I see being purely online as a barrier to the ease of connection found in-person. Meeting somebody online for the first time, especially in the case of incoming freshmen, must be odd, especially considering that they likely haven’t made any other in-person campus connections yet.

Many colleges and universities are hosting online orientations where it can be harder to connect and create friendships before starting in the fall, so the impact of reaching out to incoming freshmen can be tremendous. If I had been in a similar position entering college, I know that having one person on campus that I could reach out to would help to ease mine and my parents’ anxieties about having a campus support system.

I think that everybody recognizes that these times are extraordinary and that it’s okay to make mistakes, especially when you’re figuring out what’s best for you and your chapter. We’re all still learning as we go, and there is no one way to go about meeting and engaging with your chapter. Just stick with it and be flexible!

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