C/O Kevin Patrick Robbins

MSU clubs that had to improvise during online school reflect on their first year back in person as they look forward to fall 2022 

Last September, many McMaster Students Union clubs restarted in-person meetings after a school year spent online. During the pandemic, some MSU clubs found it difficult to maintain their numbers and had unique challenges to work around because of the nature of online connections. 

With online school, Mac Improv did their best to continue the spirit of improvisation over Zoom calls and shows. Vice President of outreach and soon to be Co-President of Mac Improv, Dabeer Abdul-Azeez, spoke about how online meetings may have hindered improv, but also allowed the team to try new things using technology.  

“[We] held online practices still. They were held over Zoom, so it was very awkward because a lot of improv has to do with being onstage and body language. [It’s] very awkward when you're just sitting [and] the camera can only see so much of your person. But we tried, nonetheless, and still held practices,” said Abdul-Azeez. 

Despite the added challenges, Mac Improv still put on a few virtual shows during the year using new types of online games they wouldn’t usually get to use to improvise with such as Among Us. 

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“There were some digital games that we tried that we normally wouldn't have done in person. [We used] technology to help provide suggestions for the scenes or things like that,” said Abdul-Azeez.  

This year, Mac Improv was almost back to pre-COVID practices, with exceptions for McMaster’s COVID safety rules. After meeting together twice a week this school year, Mac Improv is working on putting together an in-person show on April 14 at the Westdale Theatre. 

Absolute Pitch, McMaster’s official show choir, also felt a hit to their club during online school. Unfortunately, their 2020 annual show was scheduled just one week after McMaster closed. Club President Haleigh Wallace expressed that having a year’s worth of work not end up on stage was frustrating, but that the club was able to adapt using individual recordings and mixing them together virtually. 

“Our vocal directors ended up getting really good at audio mixing and we all would sit alone in our rooms and record our own vocal lines and then they would all get mixed together so that we sounded like one in person choir,” said Wallace. 

Wallace also mentioned that there were fewer new faces during the online year, but is hopeful that with in-person meetings coming back, first-years will be excited to join new clubs. Their show this year, Retro Rewind, took place on April 3 in person live at Kenneth Taylor Hall. 

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“I think the two main things we're really excited about are hopefully an in-person clubs fest or some sort of similar event where we can recruit a lot more new members because our cast is very small this year,” said Wallace. 

The McMaster Musical Theatre opted to keep their show online this year. Carly Black, Vice President External of McMaster Musical Theatre, spoke about keeping members during their year online.  

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“Our plan and our hope was to be back in person . . . We got to go back into a few rehearsals in-person, but by that time, we lost so much rehearsal time already because of McMaster pushing back its opening day to February. It was just going to be so difficult to pull together the show when we lost so much time,” said Black. 

The Musical Theatre also saw a drop in students auditioning during the online school year similar to Mac Improv and Absolute Pitch. 

“I definitely think there were less people that auditioned when it was online. Just because, you know, lots of people want to do an in-person show. It's just very different online . . . [For] a lot of people, things changed in their lives during the pandemic. So, a lot of people just didn't do as many things [or] join as many clubs, which is completely understandable,” said Black. 

A consensus across clubs was that recruitment dropped significantly throughout the pandemic, as it was difficult to predict whether we would be online or in person or what the clubs would look like.  

However, with McMaster soon to drop mask mandates campus-wide, MSU clubs may look very different come this upcoming fall. Hopefully, more in-person engagement and connections are to come.  

C/O Black Students' Association

From relationships to entertainment and wellness, BSA invites Black students to relax and chat with different editions of the MacChats series 

In a school of over 30,000 students, how do you find community? Sometimes it might be about connecting with those who share the same interests and passions; sometimes, it can be about finding a bond in shared experiences. 

Created about two years ago, McMaster’s Black Students’ Association recognized the minority of Black students on campus and aimed to create a community where all Black students can connect with one another. 

Ashley Assam, BSA’s president, explained that the importance of creating unique spaces for Black students lies in the uniqueness of Black experiences in the first place. 

“There's no secret that Black people have been marginalized for a very long time, especially given everything that happened a couple years ago with all these cases of police brutality and obviously the murder of George Floyd. It definitely took a hit on the community and I feel like having a space is necessary because Black students also face these mental health challenges that have to do with their own experiences, but [these] don't often go addressed or they will need to get addressed by someone else who understands their experience,” said Assam. 

One of the events that BSA has been hosting is called MacChats. MacChats invites Black students to get together for casual conversations. Usually, a theme will be announced for each MacChats discussion, but students are not limited to speaking about those topics only. 

This winter semester, BSA has hosted a total of three MacChats so far with varying themes. This includes conversations about relationships, sports, entertainment and well-being. 

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Assam explained that during these events, BSA members will pose a number of questions to the group and allow students to carry their own conversations. With limited capacity for in-person events, MacChats have been held on Zoom so far and breakout rooms are often used for people to divide into smaller groups. 

Although MacChats serve as a space for casual conversation, Assam shared that MacChats help cultivate deeper, meaningful conversations as well. For example, in their first event about relationships, there were discussions about what it means to engage in relationships with other races as a Black person. 

Some of these discussions may be more sensitive or up for debate, Assam explained, but what’s important is that BSA wants everyone to learn from each other. 

“The whole purpose is not to like shut down other people's ideas; it's just a place for you to voice your opinions and also kind of learn from other people and learn about what they think,” said Assam. 

With its unique role on campus, BSA acts as a social group where students can relax and bond with one another during events like MacChats, but Assam added that BSA is also there to help Black students succeed. BSA will often share resources to help connect Black students with opportunities in hopes of helping them feel supported throughout their time at McMaster. 

To Assam, BSA is about having a safe space with this special community.  

“BSA really just means having a community of people on campus that truly just want the best for you. So, what we tried to do with BSA is let every Black student know that you don't have to be any way — any certain way. You don't have to adhere to any stereotype. You don't have to look a certain way just to exist as who you are. [Y]ou're free to be who you are and we accept you as who you are and we want to see you succeed,” said Assam.

By Wei Wu, Contributor

On Oct. 30, pro-life demonstrators stood by L.R. Wilson Hall carrying signs with images of aborted fetuses. It is not clear whether the demonstrators were students at McMaster, or whether they had connections to any existing clubs.

According to Michael Coutu, a student at McMaster, the demonstrators exposed passersby to their signs and distributed pamphlets, which contained graphic images of aborted fetuses. Coutu is concerned about whether the demonstrators received clearance to be on campus. 

“Although they were not particularly loud or disruptive, I still found the images and rhetoric being spread very concerning and ill-advised,” said Coutu. 

Students have raised their concerns online regarding the contrast between the Oct. 30 situation to the May 11 protest during May at Mac, in which student activists were ticketed for trespassing during a peaceful protest that criticized McMaster regarding a range of issues. One of the issues was sexual abuse within student organizations such as the Maroons. 

Initially, the May at Mac demonstrators did not provide identification when asked to do so by security and were asked to leave. However, some of these individuals returned and continued their demonstration later on, which resulted in them being ticketed for trespassing.

Mac Daily News released an update after May 11, stating that university security had been working with limited information at the time. According to this update, security had approached the May at Mac protestors because of complaints from community members about the protestors’ pamphlets, which included “unsubstantiated allegations” made against a named McMaster student. Still, the update referred to the method of ticketing as “regrettable and unfortunate”. The university stated they would take steps to rescind tickets and clear them from the students’ records. 

The juxtaposition between how the university approached the protests of May 11 and Oct. 30 — initially issuing trespassing tickets and charges for one group but not the other — raises questions regarding the limits of protesting on campus and the types of images that are allowed to be publicized on campus. 

In a statement on freedom of expression, McMaster University clearly states that it supports the freedom of expression of all its members, as well as freedom of association and peaceful assembly for all of its members. The university affirms that members of the McMaster community have the right to exchange ideas, challenge received wisdom, engage in respectful debate, discuss controversial issues and engage in peaceful protest. 

 So long as students do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others, students are free to host and participate in demonstrations at McMaster. Members of the McMaster community are not required to obtain permission from the university administration in order to protest or demonstrate on campus.

 Although the demonstration on Oct. 30 touched upon a highly sensitive topic that some individuals may have found deeply disturbing, university policy protects the right to share their beliefs and engage in public discourse at McMaster.

 “Other images, even though we might not agree with them, we might not find them agreeable, would be allowed and permitted. That’s part of the freedoms of expression the university campus has,” said Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s Director of Communications, adding that he did not know about the pro-life demonstration.

McMaster maintains that it supports freedom of expression and peaceful protests on campus.


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