UMD student groups reflect on abrupt cancellations brought on by coronavirus

Fraternity Row on March 22, 2020. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

By Carmen Molina Acosta and Rina Torchinsky
Senior staff writers

The night before University of Maryland students were set to go home for spring break, freshman Saran Kaur was at dinner with her Bhangra dance team.

It’s a team tradition to get together before break, she said, and competition season for the traditional Indian dance group was set to begin within a few weeks. Kaur had been looking forward to it all semester.

But that same night, the team captains announced that all three of the competitions they were preparing for had been canceled in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“It just sucks,” Kaur said. “All that training that you’ve put in has kind of amounted to nothing.”

As the pandemic has moved through the U.S., it’s left a seemingly endless list of cancellations and postponements in its wake. For student organizations at this university, the abrupt suspension of normalcy means missing out on treasured traditions, giving up on long-planned events and navigating the spring semester without the highlights of campus life.

[Read more: UMD international students feel stranded as COVID-19 devastates their home countries]

On Thursday, the university officially canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the semester, ordering students to move out of dorms as well as fraternity and sorority houses by early April. On Saturday, the Department of Resident Life said that some students would be able to move out of dorms until May 15. But for a little while – after the university announced classes would take place online only until April 10 – students held onto a sliver of hope that their semester could be revived.

But the disruption has touched every facet of the university community, as everything from sports games to Greek life events to club meetings have been put on hold. And the sting of disappointment has reverberated across the campus.

Kaur’s dance team was set to travel to three different collegiate competitions, including at Cornell and William & Mary — all of which were canceled as a result of the coronavirus. And though the team still has a performance scheduled for April, without the competitions to look forward to, their year is essentially finished, she said.

Despite the unexpected blow, Kaur said she’s still grateful for the time the team spent together.

“We tried to take whatever positive we could out of it,” she said. “It was still a lot of fun to dance — all of us love dancing. That’s our passion. It’s not like it’s a waste of time.”

Shannon Gorman, a Panhellenic delegate for her sorority, said she was surprised when she first found out classes shifted online and Greek life events were canceled.

“We didn’t realize it was going to be that serious,” the communication major said.

Gorman’s chapter’s big-little reveal, which was originally scheduled for March 12, was canceled because of the pandemic.

The sophomore remembers her own reveal at the chapter house last year. Her big had left clues all over the house that she had to find, she said. All of the chapter members were there at the end, including alumnae who usually come to see their “Greek life family growing,” she said.

Gorman had a little this year, but she wasn’t able to welcome her in the same way. They held big-little reveals in smaller groups instead.

“It was definitely unfortunate that we couldn’t do it at the house,” Gorman said. “But we still managed to have a good time anyway.”

Melanie Duenas, who is in her third year as a coxswain on the men’s rowing team, said the team will be missing out on a number of competitions scheduled this semester.

“That’s basically our entire season,” she said.

She said the team will miss at least four regattas — boat races — because of the pandemic. But the time off doesn’t just affect competitions; it also cuts into practice time.

Duenas, a finance and operations management and business analytics major, said she’s able to do a lot of work off the water, since her role is like a “mini-coach,” executing practices and race commands, perched at the boat’s stern. She’s even taking an online rowing course, which she had started earlier on.

But after Gov. Larry Hogan closed gyms, many rowers won’t have access to ergometer machines, which simulate rowing.

Duenas said the team still has events scheduled in May, but even if they happen, the team likely wouldn’t be prepared for them.

“I don’t know how ready we would be to even compete in those regattas,” she said.

Philemon Kendzierski, who is co-president of the university’s Model Congress, said the club had to cancel its largest event — a simulated U.S. Congress that hosts about 200 high school students who serve as representatives and senators, proposing and debating model legislation.

The event was set to take place in the first week of May, but once classes were canceled, he said, club members were worried they wouldn’t be able to plan it. And given the CDC’s warning and the closing of public schools, he said they decided to cancel it.

“It’s the big thing that we do every semester,” the junior government and politics and philosophy major said.

Students had been preparing the event throughout the semester, Kendzierski said, and it’s how the group makes most of its money. He said that losing this event could mean the organization is missing out on $1,000 to $2,000.

And the canceled classes are also tough on new members, he said, who’ve only been in the group for a short time and haven’t been able to see much action.

“We’re just pretty bummed,” he said. “I think I’m still trying to figure out what next semester is going to look like.”

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