Alexandra Holyk for New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
How Ukrainian students at McMaster University are going virtual this year
Like many other organizations, the McMaster Ukrainian Students’ Association (MUSA) has moved to a virtual setting due to the pandemic. However, the club’s online events have allowed students from post-secondary institutions across the country to participate in their Ukrainian culture and heritage.
During the fall semester, co-presidents Alana Kohut and Larysa Stech, as well as the club’s executive team, have come up with various ways to maintain student engagement.
“Now that school is online, a lot of our club members don’t live in Hamilton — they live at home and away from campus,” Stech said, adding that it’s been difficult to organize events as a result.
“In quarantine, students are already spending a lot of time on their computers. So, to come up with unique ideas for online events that our members want to participate in after spending several hours looking at a screen has proved to be challenging,” she added.
Most recently, they organized an asynchronous Ukrainian embroidery event, which allowed students to receive the necessary embroidery tools in the mail and work on their crafts at their own pace.
“We understand that December is a stressful time for students since it is the final exam period,” Stech said. “We organized little packages of materials needed for embroidery and sent it out to those students who showed interest in participating,” she said, adding that the project was open to students across the country.
Kohut mentioned that MUSA has been communicating with their own members as well as with outside organizations such as the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union (SUSK) to increase online student engagement.
“Our biggest change [to] our approach has been being as resourceful as possible,” Kohut said. “We’ve been relying on the support of our executive, our general members, other Ukrainian students’ clubs in Canada and SUSK to help us run our club this year.”
The club also held a webinar in honour of Holodomor awareness month in November 2020. MUSA invited Roma Dzerowicz — the executive director of the Holodomor bus — as a guest speaker at the virtual event, in hopes of informing attendees about the Holodomor and how they can educate others about the famine-genocide.
By hosting these events remotely, Stech said it allowed for a wider audience that included students across Canada.
“We invited the entire Ukrainian community across Canada to our webinar and a considerable amount of students participated, which was really great to see,” said Stech.
More about MUSA
MUSA has been active in the Hamilton community for more than 40 years. According to the club’s website, its goal is to share the Ukrainian culture with Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike — which is done through various educational and social events.
“Our big goal is to gather the Ukrainians from the Hamilton community or the McMaster community,” Kohut said. “Whether it be bonding over a movie, bonding over [Ukrainian embroidery], we really want to create a Ukrainian community within Hamilton.”
During a normal school year, the club’s membership would hold pizza and pub nights, an annual bowling night, as well as regular meetings. In January 2020, MUSA started a new tradition — going carolling to Ukrainians’ homes in the Hamilton region.
The club currently has more than 50 members and has grown significantly in the past year, Stech said. There are approximately 15 executives and three members of the special events sub-committee — all of which contribute to the planning of the club’s events, including its annual volleyball tournament.
MUSA’s volleyball tournament: “Our most popular event of the year”
MUSA’s volleyball tournament happens on a yearly basis, usually during the first weekend of February. Up to 16 teams compete for a chance to receive the winning title, while also enjoying complimentary snacks and drinks throughout the all-day event.
“When people think of MUSA, they always think of the volleyball tournament,” said Kohut. “It’s an amazing day to get out there on the volleyball court and have fun with your friends,” adding that the tournament is the club’s biggest and most popular event of the year, with around 100 participants annually.
The tournament is followed by a zabava organized by members of the Ukrainian students’ association. The event features Ukrainian bands and DJs and many Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians from across the Greater Toronto Area often attend.
According to Stech, the entire event often takes several months to plan.
“Once we’re finished the tournament, we’re already planning for the following year,” Stech said. “It never stops…[and] it’s a lot of work.”
In order to adhere to public health guidelines surrounding the pandemic, MUSA cancelled its volleyball tournament this year. However, the reaction from club members was extremely positive and understanding, said Kohut.
“At the beginning of the school year in September, we were informed by the university that in-person events were not allowed, and obviously you can’t host a volleyball tournament online,” Kohut said. “Everyone in our club was very accepting of this…Obviously, we want to keep everyone safe, and if that means that we have to skip the volleyball tournament this year, so be it.”
Instead, the club has decided to continue with its online events and plans to hold a Paska-making workshop ahead of the Easter season. However, further information has not been announced yet.
When it comes to the future of the club in the next few months, Kohut said MUSA will be updating its website with pictures from the club’s past events and initiatives. She also mentioned that she and Stech will be looking for the next co-presidents to take over MUSA’s management, as the two current co-presidents are graduating this year.
Alexandra Holyk is the winner of this year’s Ukrainian Credit Union Limited’s
New Pathway Scholarship