Students, parents, alumni, faculty, and administrators gathered online for a virtual Family Weekend and Homecoming from Oct. 17 to 18. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University was unable to hold its usual in-person events and opted to move the events online instead of postponing or cancelling the weekend.
Typically, families and alumni come to campus during Family Weekend and Homecoming to watch athletic events, where the University competes against either Williams or Amherst (its Little Three rivals), as well as to attend open classes, panels, and other events.
Vice President for Advancement Frantz Williams Jr. ’99 expressed that the goal of the virtual weekend was to create an experience that was as close to an in-person Family Weekend and Homecoming as possible.
“We offered things like virtual tours, sample classes, and our traditional Parents Assembly and annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium via Zoom,” Williams Jr. wrote in an email to The Argus. “We also included videos to capture the on-campus student experience from a variety of perspectives, and brought faculty and students together with alumni and families through virtual panel discussions on topics including climate change, careers, movies, and politics.”
While this event may not be what parents and alumni hoped for, Wesleyan parent Ginny Edwards shared that it was still important for her to attend in order to support the students and the University.
“I think it’s a lesson in how much of our experience in this time is not satisfying,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be a different kind of thing, but as a parent you always want to support your kid and you always want them to be inspired, especially since this year is so distanced and disconnected. It’s a good way to show support to the school.”
The weekend opened with remarks from President Michael Roth ’78 and Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Nicole Stanton, updating attendees on the University’s academic COVID-19 protocols and reporting case numbers from the fall semester thus far.
“Provost Stanton will talk a little bit about what the academic experience is looking like this semester, and provide some examples of the ways in which faculty are doing safe instruction if they’re teaching in person and also talk a little bit about the balance of virtual versus fully online versus in person versus hybrid classes to give families a sense of the overall picture,” Whaley said.
These virtual events saw increased attendance and more geographical diversity among participants than in past years.
“By going virtual, folks from all over the globe have been able to participate in ways they wouldn’t have if we were solely on campus,” Williams Jr. wrote. “A powerful example was the 28th Annual Dwight Greene Symposium, which had a higher attendance than usual, and the casual on-line ‘reception’ after the symposium extended well past the initially-scheduled time, replicating an energetic in-person event. Our hope is that, even when we’re able to return to in-person events, we can offer some options for more people to participate in order to enhance a greater sense of community.”
Similarly, Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley has been trying to help recreate the experience of visiting campus for parents who are missing out by taking photos around the University to capture campus life.
“For my part, because parents have been unable to visit and to be on campus and so forth, I’ve been walking around campus and taking pictures of what life on campus is like,” Whaley said. “A lot of parents, I think, are wondering what it’s like so I have a lot of pictures of everything from dining to WesStation, to people studying and Olin, to athletics, just to give people a sense of what campus life is like.”
Despite the challenges of being fully online, the weekend was designed to bring the University’s community together and show what campus life is like for students this semester.
“We hope that through videos, seminars, and social media interaction, they [the attendees] will get a sense of what’s happening on campus during COVID and that Wesleyan is still the stimulating and innovative place it’s always been,” Williams Jr. said.
Katarina Grealish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org