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Western clubs are making a comeback

After years of decreased college enrollment, students have returned to campus and involvement is up

Students gather for the AS Fall Info Fair at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. on Sept. 20. Members set up around Fisher Fountain, eager to give information about their clubs. // Photo by Dani Gibson

Enrollment at universities and colleges across the country declined in recent years, but Western Washington University’s campus is active once again.

Engagement in campus activities has surged. Club officers have seen their numbers climb and say that now is the best time to get involved. 

Eden Stubbert is a coxswain, the person in charge of steering a boat, for the men’s rowing team at Western. She joined this fall and has already become an essential part of the club.

“Not a lot of people are wearing masks anymore,” Stubbert said. “I feel like that was a barrier because you don’t see the person’s face. So it doesn’t always register to see so many people and so many faces.”

Stubbert said the large number of students on campus is exciting as well as overwhelming. 

“I think it’s a mix between a ton of people coming back from not being on campus for COVID-19 and then a ton of freshmen,” Stubbert said. “Even people who weren’t there are coming back because they missed out on the college experience.”

The rowing team relies on the commitments of its members to show up every day and practice in person. Stubbert has seen a variety of reactions as first-year students join the team.

She has watched dedicated and passionate people join who contribute and better the team. However, Stubbert also noticed that many students being recruited were freshmen who did not want to agree to a large commitment.

More casual groups at Western had a different experience when kicking off their activities.

Shae Fairchild is an officer of the Happy Club at Western. She said the club seeks to create a welcoming environment focused on positive mental health.

Fairchild said the Associated Students Fall Info Fair was a big success for Happy Club. 

“I had to input all the emails, and in total, it was like 159,” Fairchild said. “I would say that was only half of the people who stopped by, so probably 300 [students visited].”

Fairchild believed her club gained many more members than last year. She said this may be due to students becoming more comfortable after many COVID-19 precautions were lifted.

At Happy Club’s first meeting, Fairchild estimated that 35 members attended, with about half of those being new members.

“We normally don’t have that many new faces,” Fairchild said. “I feel like a lot of them were freshmen or transfer students.”

There is a similar trend happening at other universities in Washington. In Spokane, a club at Gonzaga University is getting a lot of attention.

Charlie Barr is an officer of the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) Club at Gonzaga. As he was an active member last year, Barr noticed increased involvement after kicking off the club’s activities this fall.

Barr said the club currently has over 100 members. He estimated that around 50 people attended the first club meeting.

“I think part of [the large attendance] is that people are more comfortable playing in person,” Barr said. “A huge part of D&D is sitting around the table [and] being able to laugh and joke with each other.”

At the second club meeting, about 30 people showed up. The club hosted a one-shot, an adventure that can be completed in a single session, to welcome less experienced players to the game.

“New players are really the lifeblood of a D&D group,” Barr said.

Barr also said that the new members bring creativity and excitement to the club.

“That bright-eyed enthusiasm for something that a veteran may see as basic just reminds me of why I love D&D,” Barr said. “That enthusiasm for being able to tell a story and create a character is infectious. That’s why I really like having all these new people come in with new character ideas [and] new stories that they want to tell. It’s all invigorating, really.”

Barr said the D&D club is not concerned about the retention of members. Their focus is on members having a good adventure, telling their stories and sharing a positive experience.

If you’re interested in getting involved, more information about Western’s clubs and organizations is available online.

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