‘Homecoming at Home,’ creating school spirit through a virtual world

The Gilman Fountain at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday Oct. 26, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

Since LA County COVID-19 protocols restrict large gatherings, Occidental College adapted the yearly Homecoming to be virtual. According to Monika Moore, director of alumni and parent engagement, Occidental’s “Homecoming at Home” was a four-day-event created to bring a sense of normalcy and school spirit to the Occidental community Oct. 21– 24.

Homecoming at Occidental in past years lasted two days, a Friday and Saturday. According to Dan Sulzer ‘84, an economics major and former baseball player at Occidental, in the past Homecoming has been a great event to meet with friends from his time at Occidental.

“My Oxy friends I really, really value and still talk to them on a frequent basis through email,” Sulzer said.

According to Moore, it was important to have a virtual Homecoming to inform Occidental alumni and parents of what faculty and students have been doing during the fall semester. Moore said to ensure the most engagement, virtual Homecoming has adapted previous events, such as “Student for a Day,” where participants can join a lecture exclusively for them on topics current students are learning. Additionally, this year new events were created like “Spotlight: Campaign Semester,” which had a panel of Campaign Semester participants share their experiences. This event would have not been possible in previous years because students participating in Campaign Semester would be out of state.

“Our job is to engage alumni and parents, and that doesn’t stop because of the pandemic and because we have to be virtual,” Moore said. “Everything that we can do to highlight what’s happening at Oxy for alumni and parents helps build support.”

Homecoming webinar events like “Inside the Moore Lab of Zoology Bird Collection,” which showcased the Moore Lab for participants, were more focused on sharing information. In these events participants were able to use the Zoom Q&A feature while the presentation screen was shown. Engagement-based events like “Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) Game Night,” which was a trivia event targeted for Occidental graduates from 2010–2020, gave participants the opportunity to connect with each other using the chat and breakout room features. President Harry J. Elam Jr. and his wife Michele Elam hosted the first round of questions and participants competed in teams for gift certificates to the Occidental Bookstore.

According to Sulzer, who attended “Oxy Tunnels and Hidden Spaces,” learning more about Occidental’s infrastructure from the presentation was very enjoyable. Sulzer said because of the format of Homecoming this year, he was able to learn more about the school, which he believes would not have been possible in past Homecomings.

“I don’t think I would have learned that going to Homecoming, the way we conveniently did it in the past,” Sulzer said. “Yet it was fascinating, and I learned a pretty good amount.”

According to Shaneice Warfield, Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement (SLICE) assistant director for student involvement, it is important to host events like the “Spirit Fair” to help create a sense of normalcy for students. The Spirit Fair allowed students to learn about clubs and speak to fellow students. Warfield said the Spirit Fair is not just an event to encourage student involvement and school spirit, but also to help reimagine normal campus life in a virtual world.

“The Spirit Booth Competition is a tradition that gets students involved into Homecoming weekend,” Warfield said. “It’s a tradition that helps [students] show their school spirit for Homecoming, and creates that sense of school pride and community for the Homecoming weekend.”

The Spirit Fair and a few other Homecoming events had fewer than five students in attendance. According to Sulzer, some of his Occidental friends who typically attend Homecoming were not able to attend virtual events because they occurred on weekdays. However, according to Moore, most events had at least 25 attendees, and the “Oxy Tunnels and Hidden Spaces” event had the highest attendance with 220 people. Moore said if any community members missed an event, there will be recordings available this coming week.

The office of alumni and parent engagement considers “Homecoming at Home” a success according to Moore, and the office will be exploring possibilities to make future Homecomings have virtual events. Moore said “Homecoming at Home” allowed her to better understand if events were better in-person or virtually and how Homecoming can be improved for next year.

“We really think that we highlighted the right elements of the community, and that everyone had a good time,” Moore said. “I’m hoping that we brought in new folks who wouldn’t normally think of Homecoming, and then next year we’ll have new people who will be interested in joining us.”