Homecoming events held in new ways

Despite COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings, Homecoming events were held at FSU between Oct. 13 and 22.

The offices of Student Involvement and Leadership Development (SILD), Student Union Activities Board (SUAB), and Alumni Relations hosted events.

Motivation. Intersectionality. Solidarity. Sisterhood. (M.I.S.S.) co-hosted a drive-in theater with SILD. 

Other events were held “grab-and-go” style. Alumni Relations hosted all its events virtually.

Sara Gallegos, director of SILD, said her office hosted several “grab-and-go” events. Students registered on Ramlink and picked up their materials from the McCarthy Center Game Room.

She said this method of distribution minimizes contact between individuals, and there is adequate space in the room for event staffers to socially distance.

SILD hosted a “stuff-a-ram” grab-and-go event Oct. 15. The event was based on “stuff-a-bear” events from previous years – this time featuring a ram plush inspired by FSU’s mascot Sam the Ram.

Gallegos said last year’s SGA president Matty Bennet was able to fund the event at the end of spring semester with money left over from the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget.

A total of 105 stuff-a-ram kits were given out. Some were picked up in the Game Room, while others were distributed by mail to students who were not able to pick them up on campus.

Gallegos said SILD has distributed do-it-yourself kits every Thursday so far during the semester, and offers the option to mail kits for all Thursday do-it-yourself events. This was the only Homecoming event with an option for distribution by mail.

Thursday do-it-yourself events are being scheduled for the remainder of the semester.

SILD and SUAB hosted a “design your own mask” grab-and-go event Oct. 13. 

Gallegos said participants submitted their designs online, which were printed on masks for students to pick up. A total of 50 customized masks were distributed.

SILD hosted a pumpkin decorating grab-and-go event Oct. 16. Funding was also provided by Brother 2 Brother.

Gallegos said Paige Capone, a student ram pride and spirit events coordinator, came up with the idea. A total of 18 pumpkins were given out with decorating kits.

She said the masks and rams were provided as kits from FUN Enterprises. “A lot of the stuff that FUN Enterprises is creating is all very good with social distancing.”

Gallegos said SILD and SUAB also co-hosted a nine-hole miniature golf course on Larned Beach Oct. 14.

The course was provided by Mike’s Music. Although she had not hosted a miniature golf event at FSU before, Gallegos said the event was successful “during normal times” at other institutions. 

A total of 20 people played miniature golf.

M.I.S.S. and SILD co-hosted a drive-in theater in the Salem End Road parking lot Oct. 15. Twenty-four cars with 52 people parked in the lot to watch “The Conjuring.”

Mariah Farris, M.I.S.S. co-president as well as ram pride and spirit events coordinator, said they reached maximum capacity due to COVID-19 regulations and had to turn cars away.

Ewine Fedna, the other M.I.S.S. co-president, said their organization usually hosts a “big” event at the beginning of the academic year with other affinity groups, but were unable to this year because of COVID-19.

Farris said M.I.S.S. usually holds four “big” events each year – one at the beginning and one at the end of each semester. Last spring, their “M.I.S.S. Madness week” was canceled due to COVID-19, and the funding was rolled over into their budget this year to fund the drive-in.

She said the club’s “back to school bash” was canceled as well, which provided more funds for the event.

Farris added this was the first time they have hosted a drive-in, and the event was a trial run for future events.

Both co-presidents said they plan to host more drive-in theater events during the academic year. However, they said winter weather may prevent them from hosting one until the spring.

Farris said they did not know until half an hour before the movie started if the inflatable screen could go up because of high winds that night.

Fedna said cars parked for the drive-in theater cannot idle their engines and provide heat for passengers, so it would get cold if they hosted a drive-in during the winter.

Farris said M.I.S.S. hosted the drive-in for students to “be in the same vicinity” and help to “get the college vibe back.” She said freshmen students told her they were lacking that experience.

As for the reason behind hosting an in-person event, Farris said, “As a student myself, I’m in Zoom 24/7, and I didn’t want to be on Zoom for Homecoming.”

Jennifer DeFronzo, director of alumni relations, said all events she hosted were virtual.

She said normally, Alumni Relations mails invitations only to alums living in the northeastern U.S. However, “having the virtual events means that it doesn’t matter where you are as an alum – you can participate.”

DeFronzo said families of students and alumni were invited to join the virtual events in lieu of traditional events on campus. 

A panel titled “Creating an Anti-Racism Community” was hosted by Alumni Relations and Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, Oct. 14. A total of 14 guests attended.

An “AstroNights Live” event was hosted by Alumni Relations and the McAuliffe Center Oct. 16. 

President F. Javier Cevallos hosted a virtual coffee house the morning of Oct. 17. Nine guests joined on Zoom and 12 watched live on Facebook. DeFronzo said about 350 watched some portion of the event after it ended on Facebook.

The annual Alumni of Color Networking Panel, “Surviving White Workspaces,” was attended by 36 guests.

The presentation of the “Alumni Achievement Award for Inclusive Excellence” to Enzo Surin ’00 was attended by 29 guests.

A new event, “Trivia Challenge,” was attended by 26 guests. Four teams, totalling 18 guests, answered FSU trivia questions in a competition for prize packages. The winning teams were “In Bed by 10” and “Lady Rams.” The “’78 is Great” team will receive Ram bobbleheads as a consolation prize, DeFronzo said.

Alumni Relations also hosted a “Sunday Spotlight” at the Danforth Art Museum Oct. 18. The event, featuring Katherine Gulla’s work, was attended by 26 people.

A virtual Oktoberfest beer tasting with Exhibit A Brewing was held Oct. 22. DeFronzo said she hosted another virtual beer tasting over the summer, which was a success – leading to the decision to host the second event.

DeFronzo said the Alumni Relations side of Homecoming was successful because she was able to provide the right kind of events to keep people engaged. Several alumni and family who attended the events contacted her afterwards with positive feedback, and some even provided donations to the University.

She said, “What I didn’t want was for Homecoming to pass without being recognized by us [Alumni Relations].”

Homecoming Committee Chair Rachel Lucking said planning for Fall 2020 was put on hold in the spring after the COVID-19 pandemic set in and FSU switched to remote learning.

She said the Committee did not begin detailed planning until six weeks before Homecoming, after COVID-19 guidelines were established.

Capone said, “The time crunch did affect some ideas we may have had because we had to think of our budget and all the other logistics that go into planning a larger-scale event that complies with all COVID procedures.

“For me, planning was very fun because I got to take some of my ideas I had been saving and share them,” Capone added.

Attendance at this year’s Homecoming events was significantly lower than previous years.

Gallegos said the annual Carnival usually brought in 300-400 people.

Lucking said hundreds of people attended Homecoming football games – an event absent this year due to cancellation of fall sports games.

Moonlight Breakfast usually attracted 600-800 attendees, she added.

Lucking said, “I have no gauge on what would be a good attendance number or not. We’re still learning so much about what makes sense in programming and engagement.

“Overall, I was pleased with the number of people who came out and connected,” she added.

Lucking said SILD spread the word about Homecoming events through social media, the FSU website, and their Ram Pride and Spirit Events Coordinators, Capone and Farris.

DeFronzo said for free virtual events, usually about half of those who signed up actually attended.

Several students on campus said they did not attend any Homecoming events. Most students didn’t know about them.

Senior Roberto Carvalhaes said, “I didn’t know about them. Plus, I have a lot of school work going on.”

Sophomore Jay Christian said, “I didn’t get the memo.”

Junior Mykenzie Rexford said, “I didn’t hear anything about it.”

Sophomore Josh White said, “I wasn’t aware that there were any going on. I just didn’t know about it.”

Some students knew about the events, but didn’t attend any.

Sophomore Danielle Parenteau said, “I know there was the drive-in. I think I went home, unfortunately, but it looked fun.”

Senior Destiny St. Amand said, “I just didn’t have time. I knew about it, but I had to run to class.”

Some commuter students said they did not attend any Homecoming events.

Senior Molly Roach said, “I’m only here two days a week, so I didn’t really come out for any event.”

Junior Ellen Lucier said, “I commute, so I wasn’t around.”

Despite attendance far lower than previous Homecomings, members of the Committee said the events were successful.

Capone said, “We chose to do events that catered to every group of students, past or present. That is why some events were online via Zoom and there were also on-campus events that were interactive to get students excited!”

Lucking said, “We kind of viewed it as ‘Homecoming Version I,’ with the hopes that in the spring, we might be able to do something a little bit larger.”

DeFronzo said Alumni Relations is planning events for the annual student reunion weekend.

Last spring’s reunion was canceled, meaning any graduate from a class year ending in a zero or five couldn’t attend. She said those who missed out will be invited to join those with class years ending in a one or six next spring.

DeFronzo added, “We’ve doubled up, so this has the potential to be the largest alumni recognition weekend we’ve ever had.”