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The loss of oral tradition in Brandeis clubs post-COVID-19

After a year of virtual classes (2020) and another subsequent year of mixed online and virtual classes (2021), Brandeis University has almost entirely returned to its pre-COVID-19 operations, somewhat. Having online classes cut off most students from joining clubs on campus, and many groups did not perform for at least an entire academic school year. This raises the question: what parts of Brandeis culture has COVID-19 taken from us?

I am referring specifically to the oral traditions, passed down from club leader to club member. For instance, many students are now unfamiliar with Liquid Latex, which used to be one of the largest performance groups on campus. Speaking to upperclassmen (especially seniors), they remember the cultural impact of the club. However, with underclassmen, very few know what the club is about. Liquid Latex’s most recent performance was in the spring of 2022. Had this event not taken place, there would have been no one in the club currently who had ever been in a Liquid Latex show. Having the lived experience of participating in a show is vital for the continuation of a performance-based club—both in ensuring that events run smoothly and so that the club continues to have an impact on campus. 

On a smaller scale, certain traditions that individual clubs used to carry out are no longer a part of those clubs—not because these traditions are no longer relevant to the club but because nobody currently in the club participated in them. This changes the dynamics with the club, for better or for worse. We will never know because we do not fully know what was lost. 

There is at least an entire year missing from the history of many clubs. In trying to ensure a fast and smooth return to club activities, certain pieces of the clubs disappeared and remain trapped in the memories of Brandeis alumni. 

If anything, this proves how easy it is to lose pieces of oral history. In my improv troupe (To Be Announced Improv), we know that the troupe has previously played certain improv games. None of us have learned how to play them, and the members who did know the games have since graduated. With very little written down, it is incredibly easy for small pieces or huge swaths of tradition to be lost. 

When old traditions are lost, new ones take their place. Every new member joining a club will impact how a club is run, and over time, the goals of the club will likely change. This is inevitable. COVID-19 just exacerbated the process, and for me, made me more aware of it. 

All of this is not to say that the current versions of the clubs on campus are somehow lesser than their pre-COVID-19 counterparts. The club culture on campus is thriving, and there is always something fun to attend or participate in. Everyone leading a club truly gives it their all, and the effort is evident in the final product. Students at Brandeis have a deep-set passion for their clubs, with many students participating in multiple across varied interests.

Clubs at Brandeis are different now. During my first semester in fall 2021, it was evident the club structure was unstable and on the mend. First and foremost, there was a focus on getting clubs back up and running. E-boards had to reconvene and figure out new plans, all the while having limited experience in comparasion to previous E-board groups pre-COVID-19. And let me say personally, clubs persisted, and they did so incredibly effectively given the circumstances. A then-incoming first-year, I found no shortage of clubs to be involved in, and I am incredibly happy with the ones I am in now. This semester, with new Student Activities Specialist Bridget Summit on board, there is a more formal return to the club system on campus (how clubs operate and organize events), as well as a move away from Presence and onto Campus Groups for online organization. 

The way clubs operate now has indeed changed. And that is okay. Your clubs will not look the same now as they will look in five years or even next semester. Every club leader makes their club a unique place—gives it their own finishing touches from their previous experiences and interests. Clubs are living, breathing, ever-changing groups. 

When you attend your clubs, you are attending an event nobody will ever get to exist in again. Clubs are a place for people with similar interests to get together and make something out of it. And club identity is never stagnant. There is always a new project to put together, a new event to organize, or a new goal to attain. 

Despite all of this, I still mourn what has been lost and taken from us too soon. To the club leaders and members reading this piece, if anything, I hope that this encourages you to write down your traditions and keep them in a safe place. Clubs should by no means exist statically, unchanging, but a club should know where it came from. Do not let oral history and tradition be lost so easily. It is desperate to slip between our fingers and into obscurity.

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