If I hear the words “Zoom meeting” one more time, I think I might scream. Let me tell you, doing college over Zoom is NOT FUN. Nope. Not at all. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to be able to go to school without endangering my classmates and professors, but nothing about college is the same when everything you love doing gets shoved online. From classes to clubs to music to sports to a social life, college students all over the country have been finding creative ways to bring some sense of normalcy to the “Zoom University” experience.
But for collegiate pro-life advocates like me, there is one really big thing that we can’t do on Zoom, no matter how creative we get: outreach. Thousands of colleges have moved their education entirely online this semester, while the many who have retained some in-person experience have prohibited gatherings of student organizations and displays that could cause any form of congregating. My club and hundreds of other Students for Life groups around the nation are trying to engage a student body we can’t physically talk to! And it’s already difficult to recruit and maintain members, let alone when the number of productive things we can actually do on campus is almost zero…or so you might think.
A few weeks ago, I had an amazing Zoom call brainstorm session with Garrett, the Vice President of Case for Life at Case Western Reserve University. Garrett and his club have been dealing with an even more challenging situation than the one I find myself in at St. Olaf College; most of them aren’t permitted to come to campus, tasking Garrett and his fellow officers with trying to run an effective pro-life club from their laptops sitting in all corners of the United States. Spoiler alert: they’re doing a pretty fabulous job. But when Garrett reached out to me for more ideas, we combined my own experiences in the past 9 months with Students for Life at St. Olaf plus his stories from Case for Life to come up with some tips for what to do when your pro-life group can’t do outreach during COVID-19.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Hold Regular Club Meetings
In the age of “Zoom University,” students are craving social interaction. If your college is allowing some level of in-person interaction, take advantage of it! For example, my club has been utilizing a hybrid meeting structure this semester: one meeting per week that is entirely on Zoom and a second meeting socially distanced in person for practice dialogues and a bit of social time. If you can’t meet in person at all, continue having regular meetings over Zoom or a comparable platform. When your members get out of the habit of coming to your meetings, it’ll be twice as hard to get them to start coming again. That being said…
But Don’t Make Meetings Long and Boring!
There is basically nothing worse than a Zoom meeting that lasts an eternity. My philosophy: no one wants to be on Zoom for longer than they have to, so keep your online meetings efficient with a dose of fun. Plan one fun activity for each week’s online meeting, teach something new (whether that be a module from the Equipped for Life Course or learning about a new relevant Supreme Court case), and then get your club members actively working on different projects in breakout rooms for a bit. If your members feel like they aren’t wasting their time, they’re getting something done, and they’re getting some of the social interaction they crave, they’ll keep coming back!
Take Time to Improve Your Club’s Image
When someone asks you what your pro-life group does, what do you tell them? What if someone asks why you are doing outreach, or why you put up a display? Do all your members know how to answer those questions? Probably not. A great way to fix this is to update your club’s mission statement, which will both prepare your club for the post-covid-19 future and give you something collaborative to work on in your online meetings.
Students for Life at St. Olaf updated our mission statement last year, and it has been a game-changer for how we market and explain our club to fellow students. I’d like to credit my former Co-President, Joshua Head (current Co-President of Johns Hopkins University Voice for Life), for crafting this mission statement with me. As we were crafting the statement, we aimed to write something that:
Focused on fostering respectful and productive dialogue;
Wasn’t wishy-washy about our pro-life stance;
Focused on consistent anti-violence and treating others with dignity;
Highlighted our connection with and support of our local pregnancy resource center.
This is our current mission statement at Students for Life at St. Olaf:
Students for Life at St. Olaf is a pro-life organization and a chapter of Students for Life of America. We work to provide all St. Olaf students with opportunities to dialogue respectfully and productively about the issue of abortion while advocating for non-violent solutions to the serious problems that many may face in an unplanned pregnancy. We acknowledge that it is our duty to fight against the violence of abortion in every facet of our lives, but we neither engage in nor condone violent or aggressive behavior towards organizations or people who support abortion. We strive to always treat others with respect and a loving attitude when discussing the issue of abortion, even when facing aggressive or hostile treatment in return. Furthermore, we support the Northfield Women’s Center in their work to provide free services for pregnant and parenting individuals.
Don’t Stop Practicing Your Dialogue Skills
I don’t know when I’ll get to start doing outreach again, but I do know that I’m going to feel rusty when that day finally comes! However, the lack of an imminent outreach provides a great opportunity to review by teaching and practicing with new members. If you are able to have small groups meet in person, this is a great opportunity for a practice dialogue session! Here are some different ways you could structure these sessions:
- Divide your club into groups of three who can get a socially distanced dinner together once a week.
- Use Zoom breakout rooms for practice dialogues, with one more experienced dialoguer per breakout room to give feedback and “phone-a-friend” assistance.
- Watch one module of the Equipped for Life Course during each meeting and then have a giant practice dialogue: your pro-life club working together against pro-choice you.
- Screenshare a pro-choice meme and brainstorm as a group how you would craft a response to it.
There are lots of ways to keep practicing dialogues, so be creative!
Take Advantage of Social Media
Does your club have a social media manager? Do you even have social media pages? There is no time like the present! Raise awareness about your club in your community and the communities of your members by growing your social media presence, both through sharing the pro-life content of others and creating your own original content. The second part is key! Use part of a club meeting to brainstorm ideas for a social media campaign, such as profiling your club’s officers or, my personal favorite, highlighting the amazing work being done by pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) in the hometowns of your members.
Whatever you decide to do, get a team together to craft some simple yet amazing looking graphics for your social media campaign! Canva is one example of a free design website with templates to match any social media account you’re using. Students for Life at St. Olaf uses Canva for everything! However…
Don’t Spend All of Your Time on the Internet
One of my favorite things about the PRC social media campaign is that it got our members involved in their local communities all around the country. Each member reached out to the PRC in their hometown to learn about their mission, services, and the special support they can offer during COVID-19. Our members forged relationships and discovered new pro-life volunteer opportunities in their community, all while we greatly increased the reach of our club’s social media by tagging each PRC in our posts about them. This campaign raised awareness about each PRC’s services in that local community, helped to dispel myths among our student body about what PRCs do, and helped our members meet and build relationships with other pro-lifers at home.
Get Members Involved in Club Tasks
I’ve already mentioned the wonders of Zoom breakout rooms for small group projects. Crafting social media campaigns and writing mission statements are a great use of small group time, but your first priority should be to ask your members what ideas they have that will prepare the club for the future while continuing to move the pro-life cause forward now. Perhaps you can research and design your own bulletin board display to put up when you’re back on campus (Here are two favorites that Students for Life at St. Olaf has done: a display highlighting diverse national pro-life groups who break down stereotypes about the pro-life movement, such as Secular Pro-Life and Democrats for Life, and a display co-authored by our local PRC that walks you through what your first visit to the PRC would be like). Or a small group can research and present important information about specialized topics, such as a relevant Supreme Court case or in vitro fertilization. Find out what your members are passionate about, and group your members accordingly to form teams, helping students to connect socially online while also making your members feel valued in their contribution to the whole. That being said…
Don’t Overwhelm Them
I said it at the beginning, and I’ll say it again: your members are currently swimming in “Zoom University.” No one wants to be doing work on Zoom any more than they have to! Don’t let your club meetings turn into another online class with lectures and homework. Have an honest conversation with your members about what level of output your club can reasonably reach that keeps your members socially involved and personally invested without getting overwhelmed.
Not a “New Normal”
Yes, this situation isn’t ideal. Yes, I am sad that my senior year with Students for Life at St. Olaf isn’t filled with amazing outreaches and epically fun social events. Yes, no matter what you do, online pro-life advocacy is not going to be the same as the impact you can have in person. It’s okay to sit back and admit that! But you can engage your club members, your campus community, and even communities all over the United States if you’re willing to think outside the box. This too shall pass, but you don’t have to let it pass without making an impact in the pro-life movement.
Have you found a great way to do outreach online? Or engage your pro-life club on Zoom? Tell us in the comments or email me at Emily@equalrightsinstitute.com! We’d love to hear from you.
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The post My College Club Can’t Do Outreach During COVID-19…So Now What? originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”