After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, many University of Winnipeg students have had a drastically new experience of the academic programs provided by the institution. While courses and exams have been adapted to the virtual space, many elements of the typical university experience, particularly the social elements, have grown in a much more piecemeal manner.
Cliff Stornel aimed to change that when he introduced a motion to create a University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) Discord server at the UWSA Board of Directors Meeting on Sept. 29, 2021.
Stornel, who is also the part-time/mature students director with the UWSA, says “the idea behind it was that, as students, we didn’t have the same sense of community that we would have had at a non-COVID time.”
“We go to class, we don’t really see each other, there’s not a lot of opportunities to interact with people, especially people who are in our same department but not in our same classes,” he says. “So when I started thinking about it, I wanted to figure out a way to get some sense of community, because that was important to me as a student, and one of the best options I saw was (through) something like Discord.”
A Discord server is a virtual community space that can include group chats and moderation roles. The UWSA Discord server is private and can be accessed by students by filling out a survey on the UWSA website.
The server includes channels for different academic programs, departments, student groups, a doggo days channel (where group members upload photos of their dogs), a general channel, a channel for Board of Directors information and community spaces. Elected members of the UWSA are serving as moderators.
Adhiraj Majumder, environmental ethics co-director and one of the moderators, says moderating has been “pretty fun” so far.
“I wasn’t able to connect with many students because of COVID,” he says. “Now, I’m able to connect with all of the students participating. Talking with them every day and introducing myself to them makes me feel like I’m back on campus at university again.”
Stornel notes that with the uptake of Zoom and the initial digital spaces on Nexus, the efforts to move university online were more focused on individual classes than the larger social community. He notes that for many student groups and spaces, such as the Accessibility Lounge, creating community space for students with shared experiences is especially important.
“I started classes the January before COVID hit, so I had two months as a student on campus, and since then I haven’t been back,” he says. “It’s an important step to help building community. As the UWSA, we can build both an in-person and online community. The two don’t have to be separate from each other.
Majumder adds that “right now, university culture is so wide and so huge, and we can help people connect and have that university experience and make friends in a way that we’re missing.”
To sign up for the UWSA Discord server, visit surveymonkey.com/r/MFFXMMJ.
Published in Volume 76, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 10, 2022)