McGill, News, SSMU

SSMU hosts virtual Activities Night, student groups cite low engagement

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted its Winter Activities Night on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18. During the Fall Activities Night, the virtual hosting platform Gather.Town crashed almost immediately after it failed to accommodate the high volume of participants attempting to join the event. To prevent another malfunction, SSMU partnered with another platform called TriplePlay, hoping for a smoother virtual experience. 

Attendees had the option to choose between different categories of clubs, including charity and environment, athletics and recreational sports, political and social activism, and more. Once clicked, each link directed the attendees to TriplePlay. From there, they could drop into virtual “rooms” wherein club representatives were waiting. Students could choose which room to enter and could bounce between rooms at their discretion.

Karla Heisele Cubilla, SSMU vice-president Student Life, was responsible for organizing the event. Heisele Cubilla told The McGill Tribune that there were 131 groups present and  597 web log-ins on Jan. 24, and 112 groups and 597 web log-ins on Jan. 25.

Though the event was originally supposed to be held in a hybrid format, government directives forbidding most in-person school events forced organizers to hold it entirely online. According to Heisele Cubilla, the responsibility to plan the event was compounded by the pressure to find a new platform that would work better than Gather.Town. Nonetheless, Heisele Cubilla believes that the event was largely successful.

“It’s a huge project, Activities Night, but this year it’s virtual, so the main hope is to get the word out,” Heisele Cubilla said. “It is the winter semester, so we expect less attendance, but we still wanted to encourage students to come. And virtual events are not usually very successful, but we’ve been very lucky at SSMU to have a big attendance.”

While many clubs and services looked forward to Activities Night to reach new students, many representatives, like HeForShe president and co-founder Aakshi Puri, acknowledged that in-person Activities Nights allowed for more dynamic interaction than a virtual version could.

“Activities Night is a great way to reach out to as many diverse groups of people as possible,” Puri wrote to the Tribune. “This was especially true when it was held in person in previous years, which would allow us to have open discussions about gender inequality, particularly with those who aren’t typically involved in the feminist movement.”

Many clubs, however, reported relatively low attendance rates to their booths. Puri estimated that about 10 people showed up to the HeForShe booth throughout the two-day event. Socialist Fightback Club president Lucas Marques told the Tribune that a total of six people attended the club’s virtual booth. This low turnout, Marques argues,  is a testament to a persistent issue within SSMU that runs much deeper than just Activities Night.

“I think this [problem] even goes into stuff like elections,” Marques said. “This is a reflection on the student union itself, certainly not the students, and I think that it’s because SSMU doesn’t present a fighting leadership, so students don’t actually look up to it as something that will fight for them.”

Some clubs, including Socialist Fightback often elect to host their own events to draw in members because they are not confident that participating in Activities Night will expand their membership. 

“Last semester we hosted two events, and 90 people showed up to both,” Marques said. “We find that [independent events are] better for growing membership as opposed to Activities Night. Obviously we would never discard any avenue for people to be interested, so we do partake in Activities Night, even if it is not the most efficient.”

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