Homecoming celebrated virtually

Jessica GuerrucciEditor-in-Chief

The crowded football game, the pre-game tailgate, parade and copious amounts of free food were all put on hold this year as the annual tradition of homecoming switched from in-person to a virtual format due to COVID-19.

“For a while we weren’t even sure if we were going to do anything,” said Eric LaCharity, assistant director of Student Involvement. “It’s really hard to replace homecoming because it’s really about people coming back to campus and just celebrating being together and celebrating our university.”

When they decided to move forward with the event, LaCharity said Student Affairs and alumni decided to work together to do a mix of virtual and on-ground events.

The week consisted of virtual trivia, bingo, game shows and a scavenger hunt, events that LaCharity said could easily appeal to wide range of people.

“We’ve been really pleased with the outcome and the attendance from our students and the alumni,” LaCharity said.

Office of Student Involvement Graduate Intern Chelsey Cerrato said since the university usually “goes big” for homecoming, they wanted to bring out the best they could for both the students and alumni.

“What we did keep is everyone doing banners that the clubs and organizations and residence halls and INQ classes can do,” Cerrato said, “but instead of in-person we made it virtually.”

With midterms around the corner, Cerrato said it was important for students to be able to relax and have fun.

Though all the events were virtual, LaCharity said 200 people attended bingo, 80 for trivia, and 40 for the scavenger hunt.

An on-campus treasure hunt was also held. Students searched for treasure chests hidden throughout the campus for prizes.

It appeared to help with the stress because when there is incentive to win money or prizes, LaCharity said students did not seem to mind running around campus at 8:30 a.m.

“Students were going crazy about it,” Cerrato said. “Our Instagram was blowing up.”

Another on-ground event that was held was a dual drive-in movie on Oct. 18, where students could park in their cars and choose between “Remember The Titans” or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

He said there is a core group of about 30 students who attended almost every event they put on, so it shows that students who want to be involved in the events are doing so.

English major Lupita Barajas, a senior, said she tried to participate in the treasure hunt but couldn’t find anything. Her sister was able to win a her Nintendo Switch.

Even though homecoming was being done virtual, Barajas said it was a good alternative and helped build a sense of community.

“It nice to see so many people really getting involved in [the treasure hunt],” she said. “I feel like I haven’t been able to see that too much on campus this semester just because so many people are either at home because they have nothing on campus, or I just don’t see them.”

Other students didn’t participate in the events, such as psychology major Alyssa Mondia, a sophomore, simply because of the virtual nature of the events.

She said in-person homecoming brings people together more, but she understands that isn’t possible at this time.

“I think it’s what we can do for now,” Mondia said. “I think it will work if there is attendance, if people actually show up, but I think everyone is definitely going to miss in-person homecoming.”

He said a virtual event is better than nothing at all, but still the deterrent is simply the online format since students are already sitting in front of screens for most of the day.

“This is just my perspective, but the concept of just going home to be on another screen, like you watch TV, play your video games, whatever you do, so with that mentality, with that mindset, and I’m not saying people won’t be interested. I’m sure they still will, but everything’s online,” Ramos said.

While the majority of the events were virtual, LaCharity said they are still trying to imagine new ways for on-ground experiences with events like “Let’s Make a Deal” or a “Kick back in the quad” since there are still residential students looking for things to do.

There are limitations to on-ground events however. With COVID-19, the ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ event was limited to 200 people, but LaCharity said the event still had a good turnout.

As the weather gets colder, LaCharity said on-ground events will be more limited because of the limits set on indoor spaces. The ballroom in the student center and the Lyman Center can hold larger events, but smaller spaces will limit what kind of on-ground events can be held.

While they try to encourage residential students to get out of their dorms, LaCharity said the school acknowledges that students are paying activity fees even if they aren’t on campus, therefore the events were mostly centered on being virtually to ensure they were accessible.

Students may miss the energy and spirit that an on-ground homecoming brings, LaCharity said with COVID-19, but this was the best they could do while still taking into consideration gathering limits, and the fact that there could be no sports aspect as part of the celebration.

With it being a university tradition, the events still went on.

“We felt like it had to happen,” LaCharity said. “We’ve seen so many universities in Connecticut and across the country just take a step back and not do homecoming activities, so we felt really good about being one of the few who tried to move forward and do it and I think we did it pretty well.”

Photo credit: Jason Edwards

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