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After More Than a Year on Zoom, Cultural Groups Cautiously Return to In-Person Programming

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Amid Harvard’s revived social scene, cultural groups are exchanging Zoom socials and meetings for in-person gatherings after more than 18 months of creating these spaces virtually.

Leaders of cultural organizations said despite the ongoing risk of Covid-19, their groups have been able to meet safely and even hold large events — both indoors and outdoors — for their members.

Earlier this month, the Black Students Association hosted Black Convocation, a welcome ceremony for Black freshmen first introduced in 2017. Though the event was hosted virtually in 2020, BSA welcomed all class years to the in-person ceremony held in Memorial Church, followed by an indoor after-party in the Student Organization Center at Hilles.

“It was a really beautiful event. I’m so happy that we were able to pull it together,” BSA outreach and inclusivity chair Rothsaida Sylvaince ’24 said.

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BSA still had to scale down the event from previous years, including a last-minute decision to not invite students from other schools to the afterparty, as it has done in the past.

“In terms of the Covid cases that were rising on campus and the Covid risk, we didn’t want it to be a super spreader, especially to all the other universities in Boston,” Sylvaince said.

Melanie T. Munoz ’24, communications chair for Latinas Unidas and secretary for Fuerza Latina, said both clubs have taken various Covid-19 safety measures while also seeking ways to gather in person.

Fuerza Latina has required attendees to show proof of vaccination and matching IDs for a club-wide dance outing to celebrate the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I’ve never seen a bigger group of Latinx people together,” Munoz said. “It’s just a clearer sense of community and I just feel really excited to be a part of it.”

Meanwhile, Latinas Unidas held their first in-person meeting in more than a year on Thursday.

Stephanie Lin ’24, social co-chair of the Chinese Students Association, said that her group has had to make accommodations for in-person events to adhere to Covid-19 capacity guidelines.

“There are space capacity limits and specifically certain spaces that you book will have the limit, so it’s kind of unique to each space that you have,” Lin said. “Usually on the side of safety, it’s just easier to do things that are outdoors and under tents.”

One challenge for the South Asian Association’s in-person return has been having to “bridge gaps” between different class years whose experiences bonding with others in the group may have been disjointed by the remote year, according to SAA co-president Varshini S. Odayar ’23.

“A lot of people just haven’t met each other,” Odayar said. “In a pre-pandemic year, it would have been a lot easier to foster this connection, so I think that’s something that was challenging but definitely something we’re working on to build community.”

Some cultural groups found takeaways from the online period, including SAA, which started an anonymous online forum last year for people to voice opinions, something it will bring back this year. BSA, on the other hand, may continue to bring in guest speakers via Zoom, according to Sylvaince.

Sylvaince said the period online provided a turning point for those of BSA’s members who have not yet experienced the club in-person to “reimagine” the future of the club.

“I’ve often heard about traditions that we’ve had as a club and seen pictures,” Sylvaince said. “But it’s been interesting to see how they play out and what different ways us coming into the school can affect how we want to continue some traditions, and also change them for the better.”

—Staff writer Audrey M. Apollon can be reached at audrey.apollon@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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