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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

How can Grinnell traditions survive the pandemic?

Shanna Kang ’21, Jacey Birkenmeyer ’22 and Eli Calalang-Lacroix ’22 (left to right) perform at The Grinnellian in Spring 2019, the last time the event was held. Photo contributed by Saketan Anand.

As the weather warms up and the sun shines over Mac Field, Grinnell College students in a typical spring semester enjoy a wide range of exciting events and campus traditions every weekend. This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions that discourage large group gatherings, students are getting creative to figure out which events can and cannot be salvaged.

“Now that vaccines are being rolled out and people are getting vaccinated, we should welcome each other, cautiously, but openly,” said Declan Jones `21, administrative coordinator for Grinnell College’s Student Government Association (SGA). “There’s a lot of exciting room to grow and innovate with these events to make it inclusive and accessible for people.”

During the Spring 2022 semester, current third years will be the only class at Grinnell to have experienced the College’s spring traditions in an environment without the pandemic – traditions often regarded as a keystone in Grinnell campus culture and social life. The following year will demonstrate whether Grinnell traditions can outlast the student body’s pandemic isolation.

The College’s shift to activity level Blue and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines present opportunities for on-campus students to enjoy and preserve several events that students are now planning to host before the year comes to a close. Jones and other members of SGA’s All Campus Events committee began meeting in early April to start planning The Grinnellian, Waltz, Drag Show and a celebration of Iftar, among others.

Moan Alisa performs at Drag Show in Spring 2019. Photo by Shabana Gupta.

In order to be held safely, campus events must follow all COVID-19 safety protocols, causing most of them to take place outside and be scheduled further apart than usual to limit the transmission of the virus and spread of infection. The majority of planned events would ideally occur two weeks after most students have received their second vaccine dose.

“In a typical year, something like the open mic is usually kind of like a fascinating group of people that is tucked away in Bob’s Underground in a niche corner of the campus. Now what’s happening is there are no corners of the campus, really,” said Jones. “Any event that is happening might as well be a reason for the students who are kind of trapped inside here in Grinnell to come out and live a little bit and see their peers … who are also dying for some in-person interaction.”

In Spring Term 1, Jones worked with the First-Year Council and Saketan Anand `21 to plan an outdoor open mic event. Jones said not only did the event provide a fun activity and sense of community for students on campus, but it boosted confidence that it would be possible to host other events like The Grinnellian.

The Grinnellian, Grinnell’s student musical festival, is set to happen on May 8 at the commencement stage. The classic Grinnell tradition will feature 15-minute sets by Grinnell students. Anand, lead organizer of the event, said he expects two hours of performances with potentially more depending on student turnout.

“For the seniors, it’s their last Grinnellian, … and, ideally, that’s just going to be a good opportunity for I think many of us to kind of come together [and] see each other before commencement,” Anand said.

Anand said The Grinnellian will also be a great introduction to Grinnell’s music scene for first- and second-year students on campus that have never experienced it before.

[These] events are really exciting and I think they do contribute to feeling like we have some form of coherent Grinnellian identity. -Audrey Boyle ’21

“I think the culture of music at Grinnell has been very intimate and you kind of get to know everyone and you get to have this class year fanbase and friendship through the music scene and it’s just very, very nice. It’s been kind of a cornerstone of my Grinnell journey,” Anand said.

For safety purposes, Anand said the current plan is that event attendance not exceed 150 people at any one time. After each student group performs, microphones and equipment will be sanitized and wiped down.

In addition, Anand said he hopes that the event can serve food and nonalcoholic beverages to students in attendance, though whether such a plan can be carried out is in doubt due to COVID-19 regulations.

“[These] events are really exciting and I think they do contribute to feeling like we have some form of coherent Grinnellian identity,” said Audrey Boyle `21, who co-hosted Tithead or Titular Head film festival virtually last year. Though planning is ongoing, Boyle is working to make the event happen this year as well.

Other events, such as Block Party and Relays, will not be happening for the second year in a row.

Block Party, the end-of-year post-finals celebration on High Street, is widely attended by students, faculty and alumni during a normal year.

Students pose for a photo on High Street during Block Party in May 2016. Photo from The S&B archives, contributed by unknown.

“Students do want to see these traditions be sustained and have them happen. This year the challenge is I can’t see a light in which it is responsible to have an enormous mass gathering of people,” said Andrew Tucker `21, co-chair of the Block Party committee.

“We worked really hard to create a safe community and also there’s so much on the line, especially for seniors. You have commencement, parents are coming in, the last thing I think we would want is for somehow our prioritization of a party to interfere with our ability to share very important, once-in-a-lifetime moments with each other.”

Tucker plans to form a quasi-Block Party committee at the end of this year in order to introduce students interested in carrying out the tradition to the behind-the-scenes organizing necessary to host a successful Block Party.

Though the actual event will not happen this year, Block Party themed t-shirts will still be sold.

“Maybe having that presence [of shirts] will encourage students, maybe even alumni alike, to work to actually keep that tradition alive,” Tucker said. “I would hope that by preserving certain traditions and preserving the opportunity for students to really get to know people beyond just their grade is that we start recreating that sense of one community, not four small communities after a year was spent [with] so much time apart.”

Relays, typically held on the same day as Tithead, consists of a competition between small student teams to win several relay race-like games on Cleve Beach of South Campus.

A student Relays team poses for a photo on South Campus during Spring 2018 Relays. Due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, the event will not happen this year. Photo by Sarah Ruiz.

Olivia Woolam `21, co-chair of the Relays committee, said the SGA-sponsored event will not be able to happen in its usual form this year. Participation typically involves the consumption of alcohol, something the College is firmly against this year.

Woolam said she believes Relays to be important to student wellbeing as a fun activity outside of the stress of the classroom.

“I just really hope that the administration sees the importance of these events and that the current third years have the opportunity to share that with all of the classes below them, because I truly do think that they are very Grinnellian events,” Woolam said.

In a group chat for off-campus students, Rachel Snodgrass `21 presented the idea of hosting Relays informally this year. Snodgrass said that since Relays is by design an outside event and splits students into small groups, it can be hosted in a safe manner if it occurs two weeks following the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

There’s patterns of behavior that don’t get noticed if students of different years don’t talk to each other. -Rachel Snodgrass ’21

Snodgrass said that in her four years at Grinnell, events like Relays have come to define a student culture at Grinnell distinct from the College’s impression of itself as an institution – a culture that she wants to continue beyond this year. She said that the lack of events this year has caused isolation and disconnect between students of different class years.

“There’s patterns of behavior that don’t get noticed if students of different years don’t talk to each other. It’s harder to know about how you can make changes happen at the College without talking to older students who understand those systems better.”

Though the past year has shown to be challenging for Grinnell campus culture, a full-force return of campus traditions looks promising with both the announcement of Grinnell’s intent to return to in-person learning in the fall and the requirement of vaccinations for student enrollment.

“These events kind of help color in what it means to be a Grinnellian and what sharing community looks like all together,” said Jones. “To kind of pass that on to the underclassmen who are here to make sure that they get a sense of that before the class of 2021 completely moves on is super important to me.”

Editor’s Note: Andrew Tucker is the Visual Editor for The S&B.

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