Where there's a WILL, there's a way

October 21, 2020

Student organizations continue to thrive in a remote-first environment. Planning the major campus event Take Back the Night, Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) members say they've had increased connection and better communication.

Graphic of students on computer screen in video call
Student continue to gain remote connections, experiences

After a morning full of virtually leading psychology Supplemental Instruction sessions, senior Hania Khan gets off of one Zoom call and jumps onto another. Khan spends the first half of her afternoon solidifying plans for the campus wide virtual event Take Back the Night. The second half of her afternoon revolves around publicizing it.

Hania Khan
Hania Khan

Khan says that she’s heard people comment about the lack of campus activity with the semester’s remote-first approach due to the pandemic. 

But she can’t relate: “Things are busier than they’ve ever been. If you don’t feel connected, please let me know. Tell me what you are interested in and I will find a place for you. There’s plenty to be done,” says Khan, the chairperson of the student organization Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL). “The pandemic hasn’t slowed things down. I actually think people on campus are doing more now because we know how important it is to provide support and make connections with each other.”

Khan recently helped adapt the annual Take Back the Night in-person rally and march — one that typically has hundreds of participants — into an interactive online experience. Take Back the Night is an internationally held event is for survivors, supporters of survivors, and all those who seek to put an end to sexual assault and domestic violence. UM-Dearborn’s Take Back the Night is Oct. 29, 6-8 p.m., via Zoom.

 Poster for UM-Dearborn's Take Back the Night
Poster for UM-Dearborn's Take Back the Night

“It was finding a way to do it online or to not have the event — we weren’t going to let that happen. We know that this event means a lot to the community,” Khan says. “Through Take Back the Night, we aim to introduce people to the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault. We also want to give them tools to understand the nuances of the cultural and legal system that enables abusers and harms victims. But most importantly, the event offers a voice to survivors. It provides a space for survivors to share their stories; we’ve heard from past attendees how valuable Take Back the Night is to them. We just had to come up with a new way to make it work.”

Khan says WILL also is planning additional virtual events during the academic year for their members — like leadership workshops — as well as the campus community.

To keep moving forward, WILL took their typically monthly meetings — that’s how often they’d meet prior to the pandemic — and expanded them to twice a month. They began to collaborate differently; instead of jobs solely based on roles in the organization, they put more focus on strengths and teamwork. They looked at ways to be more time efficient, such as creating committees and sharing resources. The group also made it a point to respect boundaries when members speak up about needing a break.

“The conversation has shifted from the last-minute ‘I’m busy’ to a more transparent ‘I’m overwhelmed.’ Of course, it’s a two way conversation and members must contribute to the team, but when people are open about limits, you can adjust so that tasks get done on time. As long as you show respect to people,they’ll be up front about what they can or can’t do,” she says. “The understanding and openness is something that I’ve noticed has developed since the pandemic began and I see it as a very positive change in our culture.”

Khan says she’s proud of how WILL has worked together to continue their advocacy and engagement work that the group was founded on. And she says that no matter where they are at — home or campus — members will continue to promote involvement in key issues related to social change and polish themselves as leaders for a better tomorrow. “We are here to grow, learn and make our communities a better place to live and work in. That work is far from done, which means ours isn’t either.”