When I came back to campus following winter break, I was shocked. The University that was usually filled with students buzzing in and out of lecture halls looked like a ghost town. After President Jay Hartzell’s announcement detailing the initial two weeks of remote learning, my hopes for having thoughtful, discussion-based interactions with my peers outside of the classroom vanished.
Shortly after receiving President Hartzell’s email, I began reading several books as the beginning of the semester drew near. While reading alone was comforting, I longed for the ability to discuss the content face-to-face with my peers at the University.
While the University has resumed in-person classes, the future of classes staying this way is uncertain. As threats of COVID-19 persist, the University should help Longhorns stay connected while keeping their minds active by providing students a book club platform.
Computer science senior Michelle Gelman explained the importance of student connection in the midst of the remote learning environment.
“(Engaging with peers) is pretty important, especially as I’m nearing the end of my college life,” Gelman said. “It’s been hard to meet people; investing more in extracurriculars has given me the opportunity to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have classes with.”
Interacting with classmates and developing lifelong relationships are among some of the most important aspects of the student experience. Due to many students not being able to interact with others in-person because of individual health concerns, it’s more important than ever that students have a University-supported, digital extracurricular platform through which they can interact and bond over a common interest such as reading.
The proposed platform would allow students to simply log in with their UT EID, choose an available genre or search through current student book club groups and join the club that best suits their interests.
Gelman expressed interest in the University creating this platform for students.
“I like the idea. I feel like it’s something I would enjoy,” Gelman said. “It’s UT students that you’re getting to connect with through books. Plus, you’re getting exposure to leisurely reading outside of class which is nice. I’d use the (proposed) platform.”
Not only does attending a student book club help students keep their minds stimulated outside of the classroom, it also allows them to reconnect and make new friends in “the Zoom era.”
Chris Carter, director of organizational effectiveness at UT Libraries, explained his thoughts regarding the University offering the platform to students.
“I think you have a great idea. I’m all for students connecting around books,” Carter said. “It would be nice to know (as a student) that you’re within the UT community of students and have that opportunity to find a book club.”
While it’s encouraging that Carter sees merit in the idea, he mentioned some of the challenges of implementing the platform.
“It’s possible. However, it’s mostly a resource constraint thing,” Carter said. “The thing about UT having its own version of software (for its own book club platform) is we have a lot of compliance that we need to follow with regard to student privacy and enterprise security.”
Student privacy is one of the main reasons UT should have its own platform in the first place.
Third party platforms, not directly monitored or operated by UT, could misuse user data or get hacked. While no entity is completely immune to hackers, the University having control over the platform could add a necessary, extra layer of security.
Furthermore, as it relates to general feasibility, other universities across the nation offer student-wide book club platforms.
While data security funding and efficient use of the University’s resources are all important factors, these concerns all come back to the experience of the University’s number one customers: students.
The University has made a lot of progress in connecting students and faculty digitally. However, students still struggle to meet their peers through the University’s current channels. Whether a student is an avid reader or simply wants to take time for themselves and make new friends through discussing literature, a safe and secure book club platform could help bring students back together.
Lazenby is an economics junior from Chicago, Illinois.