Ashokan Clubs & Societies, Amidst COVID: Making the Move Online
Aryaman Kakkar, Kalyani Garud, Vasundhara Prasad
Amidst COVID 19, Ashoka’s clubs and societies have racked their brains and the Internet to find new ways to keep the Ashokan spirit alive and thriving. New online spaces for club activities come new rules and restrictions, with special emphasis on self-publicity and social media while tackling problems of over-saturation. Ashoka’s clubs and societies have employed myriad ways to keep their members and audiences engaged and connected.
The switch from the physical to the virtual world had led to a paradigm shift in the focus of many of the clubs in the process of adapting to this “new normal”. Unprecedented times called for the inflow of creativity, and the clubs came up with new ways to further their objectives, plan events, engage students and maintain their position. While regular weekly meetings were made possible via Zoom and Google Meet on one hand, updates on events and planning found place in members-only Whatsapp groups. Majority of the clubs began to expand their social media outreach via Instagram and Facebook, thus engaging excited freshers and seniors alike.
This year’s engagements have taken a toll on students due to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and screen time. The increased screen time, as observed by MadBatter and Abhinaya, has deterred students from actively participating in club meetings and events, limits of consumption having been reached. Morale runs low, and clubs with location-specific activities such as Farm Fresh, Abhinaya, and Navrang’s production team are facing difficulties in keeping their members engaged. When we meet on zoom, we have already been in classes and meetings all day so it’s difficult.” While artistic outlets like Siyahi have seen an increase in participation due to the widespread emotional effect of COVID, factors such as dodgy wifi, disturbances across the country, and balancing home and university life are major contributing factors to the decreased availability and attendance of students in clubs and club meetings.
The task of creating a community online proved to be another challenge that Ashokan clubs encountered, especially for the incoming batch of 2023. Representatives of most clubs stressed on how communication has been a particularly difficult challenge. Club representatives expressed concerns about offering a “good experience” to those who participate in their events without making their meetings on zoom boring. Many of the clubs admitted to trying to host more “fun and laid-back” events online as opposed to the more technical events that were hosted in-person to increase engagement and motivation. Despite this, clubs have witnessed a significant decrease in the student participation for the events organized as the same enthusiasm and vigour for offline events has not yet been seen for their online counterparts. Navrang remarked that their screenings are “not pulling the same kind of audience as before, hardly 6-7 students on a good day.”
With the advent of COVID, the administration has implemented new cyber rules for the clubs and societies meeting online, namely how the plans for official club events must be submitted ten days before the event. While some clubs do not face any difficulties, most believe the ten-day period to be excessive, and have voiced that it should be reduced whilst incorporating an increased budget for the creation and maintenance of new Zoom accounts to be used by the student body. Expressing concern for clashing events and conflicted hearts, MadBatter states the need for a campus-wide calendar for all clubs and societies to book their events, saving them the trouble of double-booking on the same day.
In these times, some clubs decided to focus on the inward development of their members. Despite serious challenges, some clubs manage to imitate the in-person experience within the restraints of their screens through various innovative solutions. The Production team within Navrang did not initiate new members this semester, instead, decided to “shift their focus from producing content to teaching each other the skills to improve on aspects such as script writing, cinematography, etc.”
Upon learning that Instagram promotes reels far more than normal posts for free, Mad Batter, the baking club, leveraged the situation to reach out to the incoming batch of first year students, growing their online presence by hosting “aesthetic baking photography contests” and starting an Instagram group to share recipes. Farm Fresh, the gardening club, has “been sharing tips on how to grow plants at home from scraps”, and hosting cook along events on Instagram. Apart from this, some of the clubs have indulged even further into the world of virtual innovation where the Ashoka Investments Club has developed a website for “virtual mock stocks”, accommodating people everywhere to participate. Abhinaya, the dance club, has tried to “treat the online space as an extension of” their “campus life” and decided to maintain the “same form of content” for all workshops, performances and collaborations. They note that creating content for social media not only improved engagement within the club but also helped the members set achievable goals for themselves.
With the uncertain status of the upcoming semester, the clubs and societies still seem to have significant hurdles to overcome in an increasingly restrictive cyber-world. However, technology has proven itself to be the silver lining too, with clubs and societies using it to their benefit and adjusting to the new normal.