Caroline Hirschauer isn’t used to it yet. She figures she probably never will. It gets hot. Words aren’t as clear. Nailing the right note can only go as far as the piece of cloth allows.

But being able to sing in a mask 10 feet from her closest Secondary Dominance group mate is better than not being able to sing together at all. The registered student organization (RSO), which is Illinois State University’s premier all-treble a cappella group made up of mostly women, is making the most of its time together while following proper health guidelines at the start of fall semester.

While things are different thanks to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Secondary Dominance put in a lot of effort planning an altered schedule that will allow them to still do what they do best: create music for the Redbird community.

“We are a very tight-knit group and have all been working together, and we have understood the circumstances we are in,” Hirschauer, a junior, said. “It’s all just been a collaborative effort.”

All of Illinois State’s 400-plus RSOs have had to pivot to begin the 2020-2021 school year, as they all did six months ago when students were sent home for the remainder of the spring semester. Secondary Dominance held its auditions virtually on Aug. 27, and many other groups had to make similar adjustments. Festival ISU, an annual RSO information fair at the beginning of each school year, also has moved to an online format.

Virtual Festival ISU will be held September 13-17, with five online student organization fairs focused on different categories of RSOs each day. The fairs will be hosted in Redbird Life, the student involvement portal, from 2-5 p.m. on each date:

  • Sunday, September 13: Leadership/political/professional
  • Monday, September 14: Performance/media
  • Tuesday, September 15: Faith/cultural
  • Wednesday, September 16: Advocacy/service/honor society
  • Thursday, September 17: Club sports/gaming/recreation

Some groups have decided to be entirely online and spent the summer planning how to effectively deliver their purposes from an alternate format.

Students Ending Rape Culture (SERC), a group empowering sexual assault survivors, started making contingency plans in the spring, which allowed it to start hosting virtual game nights early this semester. SERC will also host bi-weekly self-care sessions from 5-7 p.m. on Thursdays for anybody looking for a place of education, comfort, and conversation.

“We are teaching students how to be better at self-care,” said SERC president Carly Alagna, a senior. “We want to create a safe space for students to come to.”

Other groups are going with a more hybrid approach, combining virtual meetups with in-person events following all Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

University Program Board (UPB) is responsible for bringing events to campus, notably summoning musical artists Kanye West, Iggy Azalea, and T-Pain for past concerts. Illinois’ current Phase 4 bans gatherings of 50 or more people, making it impossible and unsafe to put on a large in-person event. But UPB has gotten creative to bring people together.

It plans to have a drive-in movie night at the Recreation Services Lot, located at Weibring Golf Club. The idea is to get students out of their rooms and out and about without congregating too many in one area. UPB will also have snack nights throughout the semester, where students can retrieve a pre-made bag of treats safely.

“The students have expressed interest in as many in-person events as we can, but in a safe manner,” said staff advisor Amanda Cox. Like most other RSOs, UPB will also have a virtual component.

Like everything else, RSOs are experiencing a new normal. Students have to celebrate a successful point in Pictionary by sending an emoji in the Zoom chat instead of high-fiving in person. They wear masks when they sing.

But the campus community is coming together and showing that it’s still just as special to be a Redbird.

“Both the staff and students are very outward focused hoping to be inclusive to all students,” Cox said. “It shows the determination of ISU students to still have a college experience despite the challenges, but still being mindful of safety.

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