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SGA president discusses silver linings of fall semester

The fall 2020 semester at Longwood was an experience unlike anything in the university’s 181-year history.

Brandon Bowen

From hybrid classes to changes in how students normally engage and interact with one another, to socially distant outside activities, to reimagining long-treasured traditions—student life looked different. It has been a semester of learning, adjusting and adapting with COVID-19 precautions in place. It was also a success.

With the semester coming to a close, Student Government Association (SGA) President Brandon Bowen reflected on the successes and challenges experienced during the fall semester.

Q: Now that we are at the end of this unprecedented and challenging semester, how do you think things went?

A: I think given the circumstances we’ve faced this semester that our students have thrived. Overall, the Longwood community can be proud of our effort and our resolve to make this semester work. We have done our best to make the best of the situation that we are in. We made it through the semester—that’s a huge accomplishment. The students did so well to maintain that joy that we have from being here and learning in person. And not only were we able to stay on campus but we were able to achieve some level of normalcy, even though this semester wasn’t easy or normal.

I know it made students feel good to see that our secret societies are still active and to see the traditions that we were able to maintain. We were still able to have Late Night Breakfast, even if it didn’t look the same. Students were really excited to see the tree all lit up in the Rotunda. Longwood is pushing to find a way to still have those traditions, and students love it. The Longwood spirit is to be resilient and to find the silver lining in everything.

Q: You mentioned silver linings. What were some of the biggest lessons you think students learned this semester?

A: Learning to be patient and understanding is my biggest takeaway from this semester. Another lesson or skill that we learned is how to connect with people in an online setting the best we can. It’s a big change learning how to communicate properly on online platforms like Zoom. We are still learning how to do that. I know that people have also learned to enjoy the smaller things, like going to get coffee in Upchurch. Small conversations mean a whole lot more than they used to, I think. I view this semester as a building block, and after this we will be able to handle everything else that comes our way. I feel like, if I can get through this semester then I can get through anything that gets thrown at me. There are a lot of positives that will come out of this, growth wise.

Q: Tell us a little bit about how the SGA kept operating this semester and some of the things you accomplished.

A: We met throughout the semester. Our executive council met in person, and senate met weekly on Zoom. We also were able to have in-person office hours and welcomed students to come in and meet with us. Next semester we are going to try to have our senate meet in person in the Soza Ballroom.

Our class councils did tabling outside, as did our VA21 committee representative. We were trying to keep positive vibes on Brock Commons. We held two town halls this semester. One addressed how to have a difficult conversation, like asking a peer to put on a mask. The second was a forum we held with President Reveley before the election, where we talked about the Electoral College and civil discourse.

One of the big things that SGA was able to help with this semester was approving new organizations and funding our current ones. There are a lot of new clubs and organizations on campus, with more to come. We’ve probably put about 20 new clubs and orgs through the approval process this semester. Our senate finance committee continued to operate and allocate money for clubs and orgs.

Throughout the semester, some of our clubs and orgs shifted their activities from being virtual to hybrid to in person. During one of our senate meetings, the folks from 25live came in and went over how to reserve spaces on campus, since it was very important for organizations to have appropriate places to meet in person.

Finally, on Stubbs Lawn you can hang out in hammocks or in the new white Adirondack chairs that we put out there. I know the students have really enjoyed those because it meant you could sit outside and talk with your friends and be safe and remain socially distant.

Q: Looking forward to next semester, what changes might we see?

A: One thing that’s been announced is there will be some breaks next semester. We are trying to look at ways we can improve mental health on campus. Seeing friendly faces in person is important. Next semester I think we will push to do more things in person— with the precautions we had this semester still in place. We learned this semester how we can do it safely. I’m hopeful that next semester we have more of a traditional Longwood feeling, while remaining safe. In a lot of ways this semester felt like we were just trying to get through.

I’m really focused on the freshmen and making sure they get to experience a feeling of normalcy and find more ways to get involved. As upperclassmen, we’ve had the traditional college and Longwood experience pre-Covid-19. I really want freshmen to feel at home here.

Q: What would you tell a prospective student or parent who is looking at Longwood and might be wondering if there are still social activities on campus?

A: While things may look different, Longwood students have shown the ability to adapt and to thrive. We’ve had to be creative and come up with a lot more outdoor activities. I know with my fraternity we’ve been going to Lancer Productions events and playing sand volleyball. We’ve definitely been outside more doing activities. Those Adirondack chairs and the fire pits that were added to campus have been great. Students have gotten really creative in coming up with ways to have fun, whether that’s socially or by themselves.