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SGA members meeting via Zoom. Photo courtesy of Joshua Gray, Vice President for Student Organizations.

An open letter from the Vice President for Student Organizations: Student orgs, we’re here for you

College can be lonely, difficult and isolating, and right now, these feelings are only exacerbated by our university’s transition to remote learning. Many of you are likely experiencing a loss of community because the collegiate sources of fellowship that you once turned to for support, such as student organizations, may feel distant, out of reach or nonexistent. 

But I want you to remember that student organizations are something that cannot be taken away from us because it is us, the Retrievers, wherever we may be, that define student organizations, and not physical spaces. 

Even with the transition to remote learning, the brick-and-mortar campus is not what defines our culture — it is the spirit that persists throughout the entirety of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County that defines us. 

In May, I was sworn in as the Vice President for Student Organizations (VPSO) in SGA. I knew my job was going to be difficult because of the coronavirus, and at that point my hope for student organizations was dwindling. Luckily, the leaders of student organizations and the Campus Life staff helped change my oppressive thinking through their ambition and optimism. 

One of those student organization leaders was Sierra Dubuque, the 2020 Summer Chair of the Finance Board. Despite UMBC’s loss of in-person community, Dubuque remains hopeful for the Fall 2020 semester, saying, “One thing I’ve noticed and love at UMBC, despite not being here long, is our strong sense of community and our ability to adapt to and overcome challenges put before us. I know we will support one another and continue to be compassionate and kind in the face of these challenging times.”

Now, what’s the point of this? The point is to let you know that it is possible. Whatever you are hoping to achieve with your student organization but no longer feel can be operationalized — it is possible. The event that just seemed like it had to be in person, leading you to question its transferability to a virtual space — it is possible. 

The possibilities were and still are endless. Rather than lamenting the way things were, let’s begin to build our tomorrow, one that speaks to collective edification, enhanced innovation, and both organizational and individual improvement.

When discussing the need to be more engaged and active than ever, Oluwatomisin Sobowale, the president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., shared the encouraging words of one of their founding members, Jewel Charles Henry Chapman: “We must never lose sight of the fact that we must take part in the development, not only of ourselves, but humanity.” 

This powerful quote speaks to the work Sobowale is doing and will continue to sustain during the fall semester to reimagine the possibilities for Black student organizations on campus, both in partnership with the leaders of other Black organizations and UMBC staff, and I uplift this work to demonstrate that UMBC is still here. There are still important conversations to be had, meetings to plan and joy to be experienced.

To jump start the journey of restoring vitality to your student organizations, your primary resource is SGA. Today, I am repledging the SGA’s commitment to be present, attentive and active within and beyond these uncertain times. 

The Finance Board has been working and will continue to work to shift the way we provide support to organizations. The Student Organization Support Team has refocused their work to centralize community building and cultural organizing. 

Then I, the VPSO, will make myself available for every question, meeting request, email, event or even fussing match with someone who unreasonably hinders a group’s opportunity for operation. 

The SGA’s first and foremost obligation is to students, so you have our ears, hands and hearts, because that is why we ran.

Written by Joshua Gray, Dance and Media and Communication Studies major and Public Administration and Policy minor, Class of 2022