In-person events are making a comeback at WSU Pullman as vaccine distribution is increasing and communities are moving into later phases of reopening.

This semester, departments throughout the Division of Student Affairs have slowly but steadily rolled out a number of in-person events that give students opportunities to safely gather and have fun in shared spaces. Although limited in number and capacity, these events are helping create meaningful student experiences in a challenging year.

A rise in on-campus events

In recent weeks, student organizations and Student Affairs departments have put on events for just about every interest: they have rented out a local movie theater to watch a new release, hosted an Easter egg hunt, held two drag bingo events, and organized a trail cleanup day at Kamiak Butte, to name a few recent activities. Just last week, the Student Involvement Office hosted two comedians in the Compton Union Building auditorium. The show was the first live entertainment event on campus in over a year.

These types of in-person events are not only fun – they are also crucial for students’ mental health, said Executive Director of Student Involvement Brian Shuffield.

“The lack of social activity and interaction that everyone has experienced over the past year has taken a toll,” he said. “We’ve heard feedback from our students that they’re missing and wanting this sort of in-person experience. It’s essential that we get students back socializing with people for their own general health.”

Students clean up branches and other debris around Kamiak Butte earlier this month.

As the semester winds down, several organizations have planned events that let students take a break from their studies and have some fun, including the University Recreation’s Rugged Coug Race and screenings of popular new movies (at 6 p.m. every Friday – Sunday through May 2). Check Coug Presence for a list of upcoming activities.

In addition, the Student Entertainment Board is planning an end-of-year Up All Night event. Shuffield said that although the event will likely look different this year, the student organizers are working hard to create a great experience.

To ensure these gatherings are safe, all in-person events are reviewed to ensure they follow COVID-19 protocols. Reviews typically involve adjusting seating to ensure attendees are six feet apart, creating traffic flow patterns, and making sure sanitizing stations are available. The reviews can be time-intensive, but the effort has paid off: Shuffield said WSU Environment Health and Safety hasn’t recorded any COVID-19 transmission from in-person events and activities organized by Student Affairs or student organizations.

‘A really special and unique experience’

Shuffield is now shifting his attention to the fall semester, and he has high hopes that most fall activities will take place in person.

“There are a lot of unknown pieces as we don’t know what COVID restrictions will look like, but we’ve learned a lot this year, we know what safe activities and events look like, and we’re focused on making in-person experiences safe and fun for students this fall,” he said.

His team is currently reimagining what fall welcome activities will look like and working to create an exceptional – and safe – experience for students in fall 2021 and beyond.

“A big reason students choose WSU is because of the student experience we offer,” he said. “We have a really special and unique experience here on the Pullman campus, and it’s essential that we can offer and promote all of those opportunities for students to engage with each other. All our focus is on re-establishing that Cougar experience on campus.”

Editor’s note: This article is part of a WSU Insider series spotlighting the careful, phased re-opening of WSU’s residential campus in Pullman as it prepares for the return to in-person instruction.