By Joe Bailey, Features Editor—
Homecoming at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga looks a little different in 2020, but the goal of connecting fellow mocs remains the same.
Monday Oct. 19 through Saturday Oct. 24, UTC is hosting a mixture of virtual and in-person events designed to bring the campus community together both literally and figuratively.
Kicking off the festivities over Zoom on Monday, a video which featured proclamations from Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and UTC Chancellor Steve Angle led into an announcement of the 2020 Homecoming Court. Voting for this collection of nine candidates will continue throughout the week, with the king and queen being announced during the UTC vs. Western Kentucky University football game on Saturday. The chance to vote over MocSync starts at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and closes at 9 a.m. on Friday.
Assistant Director of Student Engagement Laura Petrus was instrumental in planning this year’s unprecedented Homecoming celebration. To her, homecoming week has always served as a chance for students to connect over a common enthusiasm for the university. The homecoming court exists in part to showcase some of the best examples of this moc spirit.
“We really try to design it as a way to celebrate the best of the best of our student leaders,” Petrus said.
Designing a week which allows students to connect while also keeping everyone safe has led Petrus and her fellow organizers to reconsider what concepts like campus engagement and connection really mean.
“Homecoming 2020 definitely looks different, but we worked really hard to put together a fun and engaging calendar of events to engage students no matter where they are,” Petrus said. “We hope that students have fun this week.”
Just one of the ways they are rethinking Homecoming this year is in a switch from events centered around organizations to ones which focus on individuals.
“This year, because we are trying to maintain social distancing and still create fun and engaging events, we’re focusing less on opportunities for organizations to participate as a group, and just make sure we have opportunities for students to participate as individuals,” Petrus said.
Previous incarnations of Homecoming’s Lip Sync competition featured live performances put on by different campus organizations at McKenzie Arena. This year, the Virtual Lip Sync Battle challenges individual students to perform over the internet.
“It’s a way for us to still keep a Lip Sync event, but it’s completely different in that, instead of signing up as a group to participate, you can sign up as an individual,” Petrus said. “So this really kind of creates an opportunity for students who may have just watched a Lip Sync event in the past to actually participate.”
Catch the battle live starting 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday by signing up on MocSync.
Another staple of homecoming which has changed in 2020 is banner painting. For previous years, organizations would design large canvas banners which were displayed proudly on the walls of the University Center.
“We’re not able to do that this year because we can’t maintain social distancing while organizations do that,” Petrus said.
Instead, one large banner will be featured at all of the homecoming events. Attending students will be encouraged to design their own sections until the canvas is filled with varied artwork at the end of the week.
Perhaps the events which showcase this focus on individuality the best are the two Headphone Disco sessions taking place Thursday night from 8-9 and 9:30-10:30 in the UC Tennessee Room. This socially distanced dance party will see students quite literally dancing to the beat of their own drum, with music blasting, but only through headphones.
Many more virtual and in-person events, all of which are listed on the official UTC Homecoming 2020 schedule, will be taking place throughout the week.
All of this will culminate on Saturday with the UTC vs. WKU football game, but even that event will be taking place remotely for the most part. An official watch party will be held in the UC Tennessee Room, but the actual game is happening away from Chattanooga. In this way, the word “homecoming” means something less literal in 2020.
“I don’t know that we’ve found a perfect solution to engage every single student, because every student is struggling with something different,” Petrus said. “Isolation and social distancing is hitting them in different ways.”
While she agreed that some element of connection is lost when seeing the faces of fellow students exclusively through a computer screen, Petrus said that a lot can also be gained through this collective effort to engage in new ways.
“We have to put in a different level of effort and energy to maintain that level of social interaction and engagement with other people,” she said. “We are putting in a lot of effort, and sometimes it’s worth it and sometimes it’s not.”
Petrus stressed that creativity is an important asset when planning under these strange circumstances.
“Regardless of how you choose to engage during Homecoming, we hope that the opportunity is still there for you to connect to campus, to feel like part of our community,” she said. “Because, no matter where you are, you are part of our community.”