Interview: How COVID-19 Changed Campus Club Culture

Art by Jessica McLeod-Yu

The past few years have been unlike any that we’ve seen on campus due to the changes prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It became difficult to adapt to a new version of university life – one with an almost non-existent campus culture. 


We’ll cross our fingers that this academic year will be better. Here’s hoping that we’ll have opportunities to turn strangers into friends and pursue interests with like-minded people. So, as we anticipate fresh O-Week memories and new students on campus, I thought it would be great if we could hear from some club executives who’ve seen it all. Thank you to ANUSA Clubs Officer Phoenix O’Neill (she/they); Woroni (ANU Student Media) Editor-in-Chief, Liam Taylor (he/him) and ANU Sport Acting CEO, Kitty McCaskie (she/her,) for taking the time to answer a few questions!


Whilst the interviewees represent some of the ANU’s clubs, the views expressed here are their own. 


Woroni: How do you think your club/organisation has evolved over the past few years?


Phoenix: As I spoke to Phoenix on the phone, we had a conversation filled with sincerity. She noted that ANU has a unique club culture due to the strong residential culture. It was difficult for them to state how much clubs have changed – mostly because the pandemic has slowed things down. 


The ANUSA Clubs Officer position is a new one and Phoenix is the first to occupy this role. Thanks to Phoenix’s advocacy, there is greater consideration of the clubs system and governance. This has allowed clubs to be prioritised more on campus. 


Liam:Woroni strives to be the mouthpiece of the student body, naturally evolving as the ideas, news and topics students are grappling with change. 


In recent years, we have seen a shift to more multilingual, scientific and intersectional content. This, in addition to content centred around and fuelled by COVID-19, has situated our campus issues in a more nuanced international and environmental context.


I think it’s also important to highlight and appreciate some unchanging aspects of Woroni. The commitment to holding those in positions of power accountable, amplifying unheard voices in our community and doing everything with an edge has never changed… And I hope it never does.” 


Kitty: “There is a natural evolution within any organisation due to the changing demands, expectations and needs of the community. The most notable has been the move to online management and delivery of much of our operations. While our preference remains to provide in-person engagement opportunities, the pandemic has forced us to develop new ways of providing fitness and sporting opportunities to the community. This has had a positive outcome, prompting us to expand our traditional offerings. Thus, we continue to explore innovative ways to deliver sport and fitness safely in person and also through digital platforms.”


W: What impact did COVID-19 and its subsequent lockdowns have on your organisation?


Phoenix: As Phoenix only came into their role in December, she couldn’t really speak on things regarding previous lockdowns. But, as she plans the 2022 O-Week, in the back of her mind, there are lots of contingency plans in place. 


Part of their job now is to ensure that campus life is vibrant – not just for first years, but for those who have missed out due to the pandemic:


“It’s going to be a big year for people who feel like their social life is in recovery.”


Liam: “Like other organisations, the gruelling but inevitable transition to online work at Woroni allowed an impressive evolution of some facets of our publication and an unavoidable devolution of others. Campus news was no longer just consumed by StuPol diehards, but became a vital source of information for those trapped in their college rooms. 


I think these challenges have shown us new ways Woroni can engage with the student body more deeply, whilst also revealing how important it is to cherish the physical ways Woroni engages with students.”


Kitty: “The impact of the pandemic has had a major impact on our core business. Despite the closures and cancellations, we were able to move some programs online and continue to support the community through fitness and wellbeing posts and videos – free of charge to the entire community.


ANU Sport was forced into being agile, shifting our delivery model to accommodate remote engagement. We are committed to continue to provide guidance and support to our community either in-person or remotely.”


W: What is your organisation’s vision for the future? How do you think it will evolve? 


Phoenix: Phoenix plans on doing a lot of policy rewriting. She believes the club system has been flawed for a while, but only because people haven’t had the time to fix it. She wants for ANUSA to become more supportive of clubs and to create a system which is responsive to the needs of clubs: 


“The whole purpose of clubs is to have fun and meet new people, so I just want it to be more accessible.” 


Liam: “If the Woroni of the future can accurately reflect the ANU community of the future, we’ll have evolved successfully. Woroni should be a chronicle of our student experience and I hope it always remains true to that experience.”


Kitty: “We believe that ANU Sport can play a crucial role in achieving a better university experience. Our aim is to continue to evolve to meet the student demand and ensure our programs support students and the community to build healthy habits that enhance their university experience and achieve their academic goals.”


W: Do you have any closing comments?


Phoenix: “I hope that everyone enjoys their O-Week… It’s a great time to be making new friends but to also have some downtime because you will get exhausted… and classes start the next week. Take a night off. Rest.”


Kitty: “The friendly team at ANU Sport are looking forward to welcoming new and returning students to the campus and those continuing to study remotely. If you have any questions, please come and visit us and we will be happy to assist.”


Originally published in Woroni Vol.72 Issue 1 ‘Evolution’

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.