Modified Turf Dinner sees widespread turnout, clubs still face obstacles with return to in-person operations

Students promote their clubs at booths with posters on them.
Students gather at the Pitzer Mounds for the 5C club fair, Turf Dinner (Cecilia Ransburg • The Student Life)

The sound of taiko drums blend with distant music and chatter from hundreds of eager students across the Pitzer Mounds. Tables with poster boards and candy incentives line the paved paths. It’s the event virtually every club at the Claremont Colleges has been waiting for: the annual 5C club fair, Turf Dinner.

Though Turf Dinner was back in-person Sept. 21, it still looked different from prior years. In past years, all the dining halls close and dinner is served on the campus of whichever college is hosting that year. This year, due to the elimination of cross-campus dining for COVID-19 safety, no such dinner was involved, making the name confusing for some first-years and sophomores who had never been to the event before. 

Turf Dinner was also later, marking the first day large 5C-wide social events were allowed. Consequently, some clubs had to shift how they recruited members.

A cappella groups typically have booths set up during Turf to spread the word about auditions before they happen. This year, they held auditions and finalized groups over the weekend, a few days before Turf.

Sophie Liles SC ’22, a member of the a cappella group Blue and White, said this rescheduling  hurt their audition turnout. 

“We do normally have a few more auditionees because we normally do it after the club fair, the Turf Dinner,” Liles said. “But since that happened later, we couldn’t move our auditions any later — just because of scheduling, and we need to get our group settled, so you can start practicing. So that was a little bit of a challenge.” 

The Claremont Foxes, a 5C intramural women’s rugby team, also started their recruitment process before Turf and had success, but they still used the event as an opportunity to recruit even more members, according to team member Asia Anderson SC ’23.

“I think word of mouth has really worked for us, and we’ve had a lot of people coming through just [from] us talking about it to our friends, to people that we met in class,” Anderson said. “We’re super glad to have this next wave of people coming through Turf, and I think Turf really works for us because we’re really able to show out and pass a ball during it and just kind of like show this is such a good community to be part of.”  

When everything came to a halt a year and a half ago, some clubs with integral in-person aspects stopped functioning completely.

Chloe Wanaselja PO ’22, who represented Pomona Green Bikes at Turf Dinner, noted that their difficulties with the organization’s bike repair shop mainly came from the fact that so much was left behind in March 2020. 

“It’s been a lot more challenging as a shop because we had so many bikes in a big state of disrepair from the pandemic,” Wanaselja said. “We had to close shop like halfway through the semester a year and a half ago, so we weren’t able to prepare all the bikes and keep the shop in order the way we normally are.” 

COVID restrictions not only affected Turf Dinner, but also the way clubs have been functioning so far this year. Though it’s certainly less difficult to organize a club now compared to last year, when weekly Zooms were the best anyone could hope for, difficulties remain.

Even for smaller organizations like the Vietnamese Student Association, organizing events or small gatherings this semester has proved to be challenging. Co-president Somai Nguyen PO ’23 found information from administration about COVID-19 regulations in regard to 5C club meetings unclear. 

“We found out after we had done an outing into Orange County that we weren’t supposed to leave the Inland Empire,” Nguyen said. 

This is partially because guidelines and regulations change so often on a country, state, county and institutional level, and students are the last to receive notice of these policies. 

So, many student-led organizations have had to use their best judgement to determine best practices in order to keep their members safe from COVID-19 while still functioning as normally as possible. 

Anderson said that the women’s rugby team is trying to be “as COVID safe as possible.” 

“The idea is that everybody comes in … wearing their masks. “Make sure that if you feel sick, don’t come to practice, please. Get your weekly COVID test. Do your weekly surveys. Make sure that you’re completely fine. And even if by chance you feel sick, to skip, it’s not that big of a deal because there’s so much more to come.”

Stella Cook PZ ’23, a leader of the 5C’s branch of Sunrise Movement, an environmental organizing group, expressed a similar sentiment. 

“We’re definitely trying to figure out how to engage in our community and stay COVID safe,” Cook said. “That’s a really big concern for us, especially since we’re interested in climate strikes and mutual aid and getting involved in our community. And we know we have a responsibility to keep our community safe.”

Despite all the challenges of organizing, club leaders were encouraged by the turnout at Turf. Surf Club head coach Max Monier PO ’23  noticed students of all years excited to find community after being away from campus for the past year and a half.

“We’ve met a lot of cool people [at Turf]. And a lot of people seem to be excited, [who’ve] got the bug,” Monier said. “Even me as a junior, meeting people who are also juniors, seniors who I never knew that surfed. But also, it’s super cool to see so many beginners who haven’t surfed being super enthusiastic and signing up too, just wanting to get into it.” 

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