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Rice Program Council hosts homecoming week under COVID-19 guidelines

Channing Wang/Thresher

By Talha Arif     11/4/20 12:09am

Rice Program Council is hosting Homecoming Week in person this week with three main events: a Rice Bubble event, which was held on Monday, Picnic Under the Stars on Wednesday and Esperanza on Saturday. Each event for Homecoming Week required a prior safety plan to be reviewed and approved by the Student Center and the Crisis Management Team, according to RPC President Samantha McClendon. 

RPC Traditions Committee Co-Chair Ashley Pena said that one of the biggest challenges for Homecoming is ensuring that each event evidently follows Rice’s COVID-19 guidelines and does not go over capacity.

“My co-chair [Grace Wei] and I have thought through so many scenarios and made sure our plan can safely accommodate every attendee,” Pena, a Duncan College sophomore, said.

The Rice Bubble homecoming event held on Monday involved shifts of 41 attendees for each time slot, spread across the Central Quad, Ray Courtyard and the RMC Grand Hall, according to McClendon. The official COVID-19 capacity limit for the Grand Hall is 50 people.

The event consisted of bubble soccer, canvas painting and bubble tea, and provided several free items and food for students.

Shreya Majeti, a Jones College freshman who attended the bubble event, said the painting portion provided a good environment to destress.

“Jones is very strict about one person per table and RPC wasn’t, but I think it’s fine because we put the straw through our masks to drink the boba,” Majeti said.

Rice Crisis Management Director Jerusha Kasch said she expects that members of the Crisis Management Team will attend some of the Homecoming events to make sure guidelines are followed. Kasch said the team has overseen certain events this semester with high attendance, such as on-campus voting and football games, but does not attend smaller events such as Fridays in the quad.

“We’ve allowed the colleges to manage those, but larger events where we think there might be outside visitors that aren’t familiar with the university policies, we have been asked to show up to them,” Kasch said.

Hollie Fulsom, campus event manager, said she thinks RPC has done a good job of planning ahead and making sure that COVID-19 guidelines are followed as much as possible. Fulsom, who reviews all event plan requests from organizations to ensure they follow COVID-19 policies, said she reviews around 20 to 30 event requests through OwlNest per week. 

Fulsom said she hasn’t heard any complaints about events not following COVID-19 guidelines.

“In general, it’s hard for everyone to be physically distanced all the time, because as people we’re usually in each other’s private space,” Fulsom said. “We try to set [students] up to be successful to begin with when they go into a space, and we haven’t really had a huge problem with [students] following the guidelines during events.”

McClendon said committees have incorporated remote components into events when possible to ensure they cater to the entire student body.

“So far, this has looked like a virtual escape room for Welcome Back Days, virtual ‘speed-dating’ for Screw-Yer-Roommate, and sending packages to remote students with materials for outdoor crafts and tie-dye,” McClendon, a Martel College senior, said.

Esperanza, on Nov. 7, will have a remote component with classic fall movies and popular online game Among Us, according to the Facebook page. The in-person component of Esperanza will be a fall carnival this year with carnival games, pumpkin carving and hay rides. RPC Socials Committee Co-Chair Amy Barnett said the event style of a traditional, large-scale formal dance could not be offered due to COVID-19.

“We all really wanted to have a ‘big’ and safe event for those on campus, to try to bring back some sense of normalcy and wholesome fun,” Barnett, a Baker College sophomore, said.

Pena said the traditions committee events this semester are focused on giving people an opportunity to step away from their computer and socially interact safely. 

“This year’s focus is just so different than previous years,’” Pena said. “Now more than ever, people crave social interaction, and we really tried our best to create events that provided a feeling of normalcy while still being very much in line with the rules set in place by the university.”

The traditions committee will also host a study break at the end of the semester, according to Pena.

“Much like our events during Homecoming, it will definitely be a challenge for us to find food options [for the study break] that follow COVID-19 guidelines,” Pena said. “We will only be ordering from companies that deliver the food all individually wrapped and prepackaged.”

Fulsom said she does not foresee a huge change in the overall structure of event planning in the spring, but the Crisis Management Advisory Committee is still deciding if any loosening in event restrictions will be made. 

“We’re looking at what’s going on in our outside environment and in Houston in general, and we’re trying to plan ahead, and I think that we’re going to probably be headed in the same direction,” Fulsom said. “I think as long as students continue to be creative and continue to do it safely, then it’ll continue to create a good environment for people on campus.”

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