A year after the start of the pandemic, student leaders at the University of Georgia are coming together with members of their student organizations — while still complying with COVID-19 university guidelines.
Multicultural Services and Programs organizations, such as the Black Affairs Council and the Vietnamese Student Association, moved their annual community events out of campus buildings and onto the UGA Intramural Fields.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Due to COVID-19, student organizations could not host in-person events and had to switch to a virtual format to continue programming. However, drive-ins offer a safe option to hosting events while still social distancing.
The Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) hosted its annual Night In Saigon as a drive-in at the Intramural Fields during January 2021. It traditionally includes a skit, modern and traditional dances, and lion dance performers.
VSA general body member Emily Nguyen said she personally pushed for a drive-in format this year amid COVID-19 concerns.
“I believed this option was just overall better for the safety and well-being of my peers,” said Emily Nguyen. “From my perspective, the drive-in was a creative way to build a sense of community among the UGA VSA general body members.”
2020-2021 VSA president Nhilynn Nguyen said the inspiration for the drive-in came from working in the Multicultural Services and Programs (MSP) office. MSP has held drive-ins for every Heritage Month this school year.
Their main priority was trying to stay within COVID-19 university guidelines to stay 6 feet apart and serve pre-packaged food.
Cars were placed in every other parking spot, and audience members were asked to wear their masks when they rolled their windows down. It was also important that executive board members walked around to prevent people from gathering outside of their vehicles.
Nhilynn Nguyen said the health and safety of the performers and general body members needed to be prioritized. Only executive board members and directors were allowed to manage the behind-the-scenes and interact with the attendants.
In previous years, performers were able to practice in person and meet other members of VSA. The pandemic and drive-in format took away the option for members to build an in-person relationship with other performers.
“I think my experience would have been different if it were in-person in the sense that I would have, perhaps, a stronger connection with the other skit performers,” said general body member Kayla Tran. “I feel like we lacked the opportunity to truly get to know each other because we’d mainly Zoom to solely rehearse and record for the skit. However, I personally loved working with everyone, and I loved our small talks every now and then. It made me hopeful to meet everyone in the future.”
Nhilynn Nguyen said other organizations have reached out to her for help with creating a drive-in event.
“For any organization trying to plan an event like this, I think it’s important to gain that respect within your audience members and your team,” said Nhilynn Nguyen. “Not having people congregate, making sure that cars feel safe when they’re in the lot and [making sure] they don’t feel like it’s a COVID-spreader event.”
The Black Affairs Council (BAC) was another organization that hosted a drive-in for its annual spring event, BACYard Bash. They transformed an event that is typically held on Myers Quad with food, games and inflatables, to a drive-in that more than 200 people attended.
“The concept of it is just coming together to celebrate Black culture with food, fellowship, and games as well,” said Black Affairs Council president Amirah Fyre. “We knew that this year, we still wanted to do it, but we didn’t know exactly how we’re going to go about it.”
Frye attributes the event’s success to research and asking questions with their administrators and the MSP advisor Jamel Hodges.
Similar to VSA, the Black Affairs Council had to create a safe and efficient way to service attendants in their cars. University COVID-19 guidelines require social distancing and pre-packaged food. To comply, they used food trucks to serve attendants.
Their COVID-19 committee walked around the event to ensure the people who were outside their cars were in their designated space, had their masks on and were remaining six feet apart.
With a multitude of cars rolling in, parking needed extra planning for both events. Frye said in the future, they would be stricter with planning as far as entering the event and exiting the event.
The goal for both VSA and BAC was to bring together familiar faces who had been distanced on campus since the start of the pandemic.
“Even though not everybody was able to actively participate this year, it was important to us that we still find a way to celebrate who we are as an organization,” said Tran. “The pandemic had already taken many things from us, but we refused to let it take away our community and sense of belonging.”
Tylar Norman is a senior majoring in journalism, minoring in Spanish and sport management and earning a certificate in sports media at the University of Georgia.
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