Student Organizations Embrace Challenges in Event Planning

At a college renowned for its community, COVID-19 has presented many struggles for students and faculty alike at John Brown University. The Students Events and Activities (SEA) team is one of the most affected organizations on campus, as they are currently working to balance community activities with COVID-19 precautions.

For Ashley Nikkel, SEA student director, one of the most important changes was a mindset change. “In previous years, we [SEA] aimed to host events with high attendance, getting as many students involved as possible,” Nikkel said. “This usually looked like big shows with 500-800 people in attendance. Events like that just aren’t possible this year, so, instead of thinking about how to keep our same schedule and restructure every event to fit COVID guidelines … we had to start at ground zero and ask ourselves, ‘Okay, what can we still do?’”

SEA’s strategy switched as old events were adapted and new events were brainstormed, “We had to seriously get creative and find ways to reach students,” Nikkel said. “At the beginning of the semester, that looked like taking advantage of outdoor spaces as much as possible. We hosted the Chalk Art Festival, which was a huge hit, and a kickball tournament, where our signups filled the first day they opened. We also recognize that this is a tough semester, and without breaks in the schedule to look forward to, some people might appreciate the movie nights we’ve hosted rather than intense, high-involvement activities.”

SEA has come across unexpected struggles. “Simply put, one of the most effective motivators for college students participating in events is food,” Nikkel said. “With COVID restrictions, however, we can’t serve food or drinks in the same way as before, so finding ways to still encourage attendance has been tricky. Additionally, we are required to have a list of who all attends each activity and because of the space limit in most buildings, that most often looks like a sign-up sheet ahead of time. College students in general, however, are not that great at planning ahead, which makes it tough to gauge attendance and stay enthusiastic about events when people are not signing up.”

Nikkel also shared another struggle event planners faced: constantly changing expectations. “The expectations and regulations we were given at the beginning of the year changed after our first week of training, and then changed again a couple weeks later, and even again after that. Being adaptable, resilient and having the perseverance to bounce back after plans change multiple times has been a challenge this semester but a lesson that will be invaluable through the rest of life,” Nikkel said. “This semester has looked different, yes, but I am still so proud of my team and the way we have given everything to serve the students on our campus and make this semester as good as it can be.”

Meredith Duffield, the SEA communications director, agreed that adaptability was an important skill for the team as they found a way forward. “Like many things, the uncertainty of the semester has been a big struggle. Some weeks, we would have a week or two to plan an event, and sometimes we would have to plan it a few days ahead of time.”

While brainstorming new events has been difficult, SEA was committed to making JBU’s traditional events work when they could. “Coming into this year, we wanted to try to continue with some of our classic SEA events like Late Skate, The Feud and concerts, but like many other things in 2020, COVID made it much more difficult to do so,” Duffield said. “As the university was trying to figure out what the best options were in regards to event regulations, our schedule was constantly changing. I think by the time we got to the final set schedule of events for the semester, we had gone through at least two different drafts. We were able to move one of our classic events, Spy vs. Spy, to the fall, and it was the most successful that it has been in a while.”

Though there have been challenges, SEA has been committed to creating new events and helping the JBU community connect during COVID. “This semester has been quite different, but I personally have really enjoyed having the opportunity to try to continue to create JBU community in the midst of such a difficult and unknown season of life,” Duffield said. “Many universities are not even allowing for events to be hosted on campus, so I am so honored that we are allowed to plan and host so many events throughout the semester, even if they may look a bit different than normal.”

Photo courtesy of Student Events and Activities