Students are packed like sardines on the shuttle. Damen’s endless seating options are all taken. Student life is bustling on Loyola’s campus after 18 months of pandemic-induced isolation, just as student organizations return to hosting in-person activities.
The world of on-campus arts and entertainment became a barren land once COVID-19 hit, with theaters turning into testing centers and the once-fruitful industry grinding to a halt. Student organizations faced an eerie silence as the ties that brought their members together dissipated.
For these organizations, the return to active student life is a much-needed life raft.
LUC Film Club president Nina Smythe entered the role at the height of the pandemic last spring. Contrasting the club’s typical Damen Cinema screenings, she held Zoom screenings to maintain the club’s presence while abiding by COVID guidelines.
Despite prior in-person screenings drawing in up to 50 students, Smythe said the virtual screenings sometimes had as few as two attendants. Smythe, a junior majoring in film and digital media, said laptop screenings can’t hold up to a theater viewing “because there are so many distractions.”
“In-person events are really crucial and a really critical part of film club,” Smythe, 20, said. “You’re already on your laptop so much and it’s not the same vibe. Being in the theater, that’s such an important aspect to watching a film. It creates such a unique experience when it comes to film and appreciating film.”
Unlike the film club, the photography club had no pre-pandemic precedent. Club president Emily Burdett resurrected the organization in fall 2020 after signing up for a defunct version of it in fall 2018 as a first-year.
Burdett, a senior multimedia journalism major, said the club never got off the ground her first or second years of college, and she wanted to change that. During the socially distanced, muted time of fall 2020, she sought to bring community to fellow student photographers.
Yet, pandemic restrictions clipped the club from truly getting off the ground, she said.
“We had a lot of interest, but because everything was on Zoom, it kind of fizzled out as the year went on.” Burdett, 21, said. “Photography’s very interactive and people want to go out and shoot, and we couldn’t do that last year.”
“People knew what they wanted, and we just couldn’t give them that unfortunately,” she said.
But not all arts organizations flailed under the weight of the pandemic. Senior Charlie McGroarty, president of the Invincible Comic Book Club, said the transition to virtual student life was a blip on the radar for the club.
The English and graphic design double major attributed this to the club’s size.
“We’re a relatively small club, we always have been,” McGroarty, 21, said. “We’ve been able to become very close with one another through that smallness. … It’s a lot easier to get to know pretty much everyone.”
Even with the organization’s smooth transition to Zoom and back to in-person, McGroarty is still eager to press play on some foregone events. Before the pandemic, the club hosted movie nights in their meeting spot — a Cuneo classroom — with pizza, soda “and all that good stuff,” he said.
“People feel a little bit more casual, a little more willing to talk about the movie as we’re watching, whether that be scenes they really like or fun facts behind it,” McGroarty said. “Or, if it’s a particularly bad movie, laughing throughout the entire thing.”
He said he’s looking forward to a semester of reinvigorating the club with these nights, as well as trivia nights, costume contests and “a variety of fun comic convention-esque activities.”
Loyola’s Department of Programming (DOP) got a head-start on jumping back in-person. The organization ushered students back into campus with a Saturday Night of Comedy event headlined by Marlon Wayans.
With hundreds in attendance, the DOP event set a precedent for the new normal of student life. As campus roars with life after a barren year, students are eager to get involved.
This year’s Organization Fair on Lake Shore Campus’ West Quad led to the photography club receiving a whopping 150 student sign-ups. With a growth in interest came growth in opportunity. Burdett said she’s planning to gather the club for outdoor photo-walks of fall foliage, as well as attending events, such as Chicago Henge.
As COVID-19 hovers in the backseat — not quite disappearing in the rearview — club organizers are both excited to see some restrictions lifted while also remaining vigilant. DOP Main Stage Director Takayla Patterson said the club is making sure to abide by health guidelines while trying to provide an exciting student experience.
“You gotta be really flexible and you got to be prepared for it to go any way,” Patterson, 26, said. “And now it’s just something that we’re always going to have in the back of our minds. Is social distancing being adhered to? Is [there] going to be a big outbreak after this?”
In the ever-shaky world of COVID-19, Burdett said she wants to make the photography club’s mark and provide a solid foundation for future years to expand on. She said she wants to use her role not just to further students’ photography skills, but to provide companionship.
“I remember being a scared freshman in a brand-new city, never [having] been on the train before, taking my camera downtown,” Burdett said. “It’s pretty intimidating at first. But, once you make those connections and you meet new people, it gets a lot more fun … to go out and do photography together.”
Emily Burdett is a contributing photographer for The Phoenix.