‘It made me hate the society’: Lancaster freshers on joining societies in lockdown

‘We were relying on [it] to meet new people and without it we are isolated further’

Societies. Perhaps we overlooked their importance until we were in a lockdown, and suddenly no one could train, drink or socialise except through a camera lens. Perhaps the older of us grin and bear it: we’ve made our friends, we’ve played the games, we’ve been on the nights out. The loss has been overwhelming for freshers, leaving many feeling anxious, alone and ultimately, uncomfortable in Lancaster. This begs the question: societies might not be able to do a lot right now, but are they doing enough?

In some cases, societies are excelling in their online endeavours to include freshers. However, sometimes those weekly zoom quizzes fall a bit short compared to a dressed-up Whoops! Wednesday. To raise some awareness about what societies can do better to include new students, we asked some Lancs freshers about their personal experiences. What were we expecting from the societies at Lancaster uni?

“It’s making me so anxious to sit there and be ignored for half an hour” 

No one likes to be ignored, and online socials certainly contribute to freshers feeling left out and irrelevant to the more established members. For many of us, societies are where we make our main group of friends. Outside of our course mates and housemates, societies give us a chance to meet people who share similar interests with us. These new friends often become our central social group, helping us feel settled and comfortable at Lancaster. Maybe some of us took this for granted, as many freshers are now feeling incredibly alone and uncomfortable when they try to get involved online.

One fresher mentioned their society had made a “Freshers-only group chat, but nothing happens on it”, and another felt left out during online zooms, as older members were “Always talking about past events and inside jokes” and “only one person ever tried actually to get me involved in the conversation”. This is obviously not the best way to boost fresher inclusion. Instead, it boosts anxiety. We were all freshers once, and we have all experienced the daunting experience of coming somewhere new. It isn’t very comforting! So, why make it harder for people to feel welcome? No one enjoys feeling isolated and in lockdown; we’ve likely all felt alone at some point. These freshers have left home, are living in flats with new people, dealing with a different demand on workload and in some cases, they cannot even find comfort in societies. Find ways to allow freshers to engage in conversation: pick well-known discussion topics, make integrated groups of “families”, which promotes easier conversation for freshers, or even acts as a team for a weekly quiz.

“When you pay for a service, you expect to get one”

Imagine you’ve spent some of your precious weekly budget on a takeaway, but when it eventually arrives, it is cold, tasteless and stodgy. Nothing worse, really. Now, imagine you’ve spent money on a membership fee for society and receive nothing in return. Membership fees are a given when joining a society; without it, you wouldn’t get to use certain facilities, afford the equipment, or reap the rewards through the social secs budget. But, when no one is using facilities, equipment or going to a physical social, the requirement to pay a membership fee is not only disappointing but off-putting for freshers. Regardless of the fee, be it £5 or £30, societies have to deliver on what they financially promise. Otherwise, it is a wasteful use of your new member’s good faith. So, if you don’t deliver, don’t charge.

“I tried to contact multiple societies […] they never replied”

This is quite a simple one. Societies really embody the phrase: “The more, the merrier”, so naturally, advertisement and engagement with potential new members are essential to both the vibes and the clubs’ longevity. Especially with this years, Freshers Fair being an entirely online affair, the need to remain virtually active as a society is paramount to enlisting more recruits. As experienced by this fresher, there has been a “Lack of advertising for particularly sports teams before trials”, which is relatively understandable on both ends. For freshers wanting to join sports teams, trials form a crucial part of the process. If you’re trying out a few sports, this gives you the chance to see which you enjoy. If you know you’re a formidable force in a certain sport, it allows the club to assign you a team that suits your ability. For the team, trials are a hopeful sign of things to come; you put your best foot forward and promote the exciting things that come with a club membership.

However, it is hard to advertise trials if you cannot hold them. Some teams could not train, let alone run a taster/trial session for freshers, due to the constantly shifting rules about distancing and facilities. Be this as it may, sports clubs have to compensate for what they’ve lost. Teams might not be able to train, but several societies have started virtual competitions, with players completing tasks relevant to their sport. It should be about what you can do to include freshers, and concerning this fresher’s worry, the answer is quite obvious: the least you can do is send a reply.

“Another thing that first years are missing out on”

We all are missing out on things this year. It’s part and parcel of the pandemic. But it is important to empathise with those in a new place, with new people and don’t have the chance to get familiar with Lancaster uni like most of us did as freshers. Those societies that are helping freshers feel comfortable are setting a high bar for those which are lacking. It is easy to become complacent, but we really have all been there, so make an effort to involve freshers – they deserve as good an experience as they can get! And freshers, we promise you, it does get better!

Keep an eye out for our Society Spotlight for more information about societies on campus.

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