Wright State student organizations feel COVID-19 impacts

The Tabletop Club and Troupe, two Wright State University student organizations, are feeling the impacts of COVID-19. Both organizations used to run regular in-person events before COVID. But they have had to make difficult decisions and changes for the safety of their members.

Events and room reservations

“We had room reservations every single day,” Michael Brown, president of The Tabletop Club, noted. “We had between 10 and 15, sometimes over 20, concurrent campaigns going on. I had room reservations… three or four reservations every day.”

The Tabletop Club is an organization where students meet to play board and dice games. Their most popular game is Dungeons & Dragons, which is a role-playing game where the players make a story together, according to the official Dungeons & Dragons website.

“D&D 1010 was a really, really huge event,” Sarah Krafcik, vice-president of The Tabletop Club, emphasized. “That was probably the biggest event we’ve had. Our retention from that event alone was huge.” D&D 1010 is an annual tutorial event where those who want to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons can do so. Normally, the event is hosted in rooms with several tables, one for each small group or campaign. In the Fall 2020 semester, The Tabletop Club hosted D&D 1010 fully online with only two groups.

Dungeons & Dragons is not the only game The Tabletop Club provides; members also play a wide range of board games.

“Last Fall Semester, we paired with the library and were a part of their game night,” Brown said, “and we had the whole bottom floor. And there were probably 50 people all around [at any given time] playing different board games.” The Tabletop Club has not been able to host this event again in Fall 2020 due to campus COVID restrictions.

Events requiring room reservations were no longer possible due to Wright State’s suspension of all campus events on March 10, 2020, according to The Guardian Media Group. At the time of this writing, the university is allowing limited room reservations but is encouraging activities to remain virtual, according to their coronavirus information page for current students.

Troupe also held routine in-person events that were affected by COVID.

“Usually we have a live improv show every semester,” Cameron Sterrett, treasurer of Troupe, said. “Our improv shows have audience engagement. We ask for suggestions for the scene from the audience. And then our scripted shows are just like any other scripted show, except we write them ourselves.” Troupe will be hosting their improv shows on Twitch and YouTube until further notice.

“This organization was founded on the principles of theatre,” Maxwell Patton, president of Troupe, stated. “You could be a theatre student, an engineer, or any major, and still participate. We often play games based on the popular show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’. However, we also play different games.” Troupe had to adapt the improv games they play for the virtual environment. Prior to COVID, the improv shows were done in-person.

First reactions

When COVID first broke out in other countries, members of Troupe did not think it would reach the United States. “It wasn’t really a big deal to us until the week of when it really hit us and our show got canceled,” explained Patton.

“We were supposed to have a show a week before everything got shut down,” continued Sterrett. “We never really had Troupe in the Spring. And we weren’t really sure what Troupe would look like coming back this Fall being online.”

Brown and Krafcik were monitoring the situation closely and expressed more concern prior to the arrival of COVID in the United States.

“I’m a biochem major,” Krafcik began, “and this was one of the things we talked about a lot in our class. This was a thought in our professors’ minds. If this gets to America, we may have to shut down school.”

“I don’t really think anyone understood how big this was going to be in the beginning,” Brown said. “I was thinking it was something similar to Swine Flu or H1N1. It kind of came out of Left Field. And we were scrambling last semester (Spring 2020) to pull things together.”

Challenges to operations

Both organizations are experiencing significant challenges due to COVID. The officers had to make changes to the typical operations of the organizations to overcome these challenges.

“We’re not able to do things for our members,” explained Brown, “and that is the absolute killer for me.” Both Brown and Krafcik are in their final year of college before graduating. “It just seems that we’re so busy now.

“And then I’m trying to transition everything that we do into an online format,” Brown continued, “which has been hard.” To conduct online role-playing games, The Tabletop Club has been using platforms such as Roll20. For board games, members have been using interactive simulators such as Steam’s Tabletop Simulator.

“We lost two officers this semester,” Brown stated as another challenge The Tabletop Club faced. “We don’t want one person to be too overwhelmed because that’s what happened with Dorian; they just got burnt out because they were handling everything.” Dorian Warmbier was the Tabletop Club president prior to Brown and Krafcik offering to take over operations. The Tabletop Club also lost the officer in charge of board game nights and the officer in charge of D&D 1010. Krafcik has taken over hosting D&D 1010.

Board Game nights, as opposed to role-playing games, have been suspended during the COVID pandemic.

“With board games, you’re huddled over the small board,” began Brown. “Masks will obviously help, but you’re also touching all the same stuff. And it’s extremely difficult with a board game when you have shared pieces to actually create an environment that you can feel safe.” Although The Tabletop Club is not hosting any in-person events as part of the organization, they have left it up to the discretion of members if they want to meet in-person at their own risk.

Patton from Troupe explained that some improv games, such as ones requiring more movement, were not feasible in their new virtual format on YouTube and Twitch. But Troupe has still been able to play most of their games and have fun.

“It was really difficult trying to find a way to go about doing our meetings,” Patton continued. “This was around the time when we were transitioning presidents.” Troupe was also developing a script for the Spring show which got canceled due to COVID.

Recruitment fears

“We’ve always been a smaller club,” Sterrett explained. “We usually have about eight people in our meetings or so. And we’re graduating about half of that. So my biggest fear was being able to recruit people virtually.”

Much to Troupe’s surprise, they recruited more people this semester than in semesters past.

“It was rather interesting because when we did Do The U and the radio org fair, we basically recruited one person,” Patton said. “But now that we’ve had so many people show interest in the club, and be able to come to the meetings and referring us to their friends, it’s really cool.” Patton stated about 10 people showed interest in the club during Fall 2020 virtual Do the U event.

“Fall is so important for recruitment”, Brown emphasized. “We were at 30 members. And through Sarah’s efforts last Fall, we went up to 120 members. And now we’re at 160.”

“I feel like it’s a sham,” Krafcik stated. “I don’t want to recruit people into a space and say, ‘Hey, we do all this stuff.’ And then they get here and are just sitting and waiting for COVID [to pass].”

Importance of student organizations

One of the biggest contributions that The Tabletop Club provides members is “a sense of community,” Brown said. “It’s a community where nobody judges. And if they do, it’s taken care of immediately. You can also just ask questions about literally anything college-related or game-related. And you’re gonna find someone with a similar interest.”

“Pre-COVID, we have the events,” Brown continued. “We’re doing something every single day of the week. But you can even just mention in general chat, ‘hey, I’m here doing this. Does anybody want to play Dominion with me?’ And you’ll probably find somebody.” The Tabletop Club conducts a majority of its campaigns and discussion through Discord: an online chat, voice, and video platform.

“One of the benefits of being this smaller group is we’re all able to get to know each other pretty well,” explained Patton about Troupe. Patton and Sterrett also stated Troupe brings students laughter, teamwork through collaboration on the improv games, and interaction with others.

Advice for organization officers

Despite the many challenges both The Tabletop Club and Troupe have experienced, they have been pulling through. Both offer advice on how officers of other organizations can effectively pull through COVID and keep their organizations alive.

“It depends on your club,” Patton began. “But just because you aren’t able to do stuff in person… does not necessarily mean it’s the end of the world. Be able to weigh your options. And don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”

“I would say just be flexible,” Sterrett added.

“Remember what you’re doing here,” Brown began. “And remember the things that you’re doing affect more than just yourself. The club is not about you. We’re literally just trying to provide a community, a space, something [for students] to do something to enhance their college experience.”

“Set realistic expectations and realistic goals,” Krafcik added. “You’re not going to be able to do everything you did in-person online. It’s going to be hard to transition. Don’t overextend yourself. If you do, then you’re just going to be miserable. And there’s no point in that; this club should be fun for you, too.”

Advice for students

Both The Tabletop Club and Troupe also offered their advice for college students in general especially those seeking activities to do amid COVID.

“College has some great resources especially the UAB,” Brown began. “You can scroll through the list, look for contact information for different clubs, something you’re interested in.”

“Don’t be disheartened, and be patient,” Krafcik added. “If the president doesn’t respond to you in a few days, email the Vice President. If they don’t respond, email the treasurer. Just keep going if you really want to get involved in that org.”

“Don’t forget to breathe,” Patton said. “We’re really digging deep into our study. Don’t be afraid to pop up back to the surface and breathe.”

“You are strong enough to get through it,” Sterrett added. “Everyone else is in the same boat. Make time for yourself and fun also.”

Students who want to check out and get involved in organizations around Wright State can contact the University Activities Board (UAB) or by browsing and signing up for organizations on Wright State’s Engage.

Tabletop Club Presents Board Game Night. This photo was taken in Dunbar Library at Wright State University on August 30, 2019.

Troupe hosted an Improv Show in Fall Semester 2019 at Wright State University.

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