The University of Maine’s transition to remote learning in response to COVID-19 could have easily ended the conversation for student political groups for the rest of the semester, but the UMaine student community is finding ways to maintain its momentum during these trying times.
The UMaine College Republicans and the UMaine College Democrats have moved their operations online to sustain communications while their members are conducting their studies remotely. Both groups are using Zoom, a videoconferencing platform that many UMaine professors use for remote lectures, to conduct meetings.
Anna Zmistowski, a fourth-year political science major and the president of UMaine’s College Republicans shared that the group is communicating via Facebook and email, in addition to Zoom.
“[Using the Zoom software] is in line with the practice adopted by the Maine GOP since the beginning of COVID-19,” Zmistowski said.
Liam Kent, the president of the UMaine College Democrats and the vice president of Maine College Democrats shared that the group’s loss of interpersonal interactions is currently its biggest challenge. He noted that his peers on other college campuses are facing this challenge as well.
“Politics, at its core, is a face to face interaction between people. Losing one of our most effective organizing strategies is like losing a leg — it does severely affect our effectiveness as an organization,” Kent said.
Kent stated that the group plans to combat this challenge by being “as effective online as [they] were before.” UMaine’s College Democrats plan to hold discussion sessions with their fellow UMaine student-led political groups. Kent hopes that these discussion sessions will occur later in April and will rely on video conferencing platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Kent added that communicating online is not a major adjustment for college students because many students rely on online services to fulfill the day-to-day expectations of student life. He feels as though this familiarity with digital resources will make the transition to remote operations easier.
Zmistowski shared that UMaine College Republicans’ greatest challenge currently is recruitment. She said that the group has been somewhat less persistent in their efforts recruiting at this time because they want to respect the UMaine community as everyone faces the challenges brought about by the pandemic.
“Now is a time to focus on family, friends, and staying well in mind, body, and spirit. We need each other now more than ever before. Our recruiting will return to its usual vigor as the pandemic runs its course. Once we are all healthy and able, we are excited to bring new members into the University of Maine College Republicans,” Zmistowski added.
The news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Americans to turn to their representatives and question what they are doing about the crisis. For their part, Zmistowski shared that her group’s efforts during the pandemic will rely heavily on the dissemination of accurate information as it relates to the efforts of President Trump, as well as reminding others of his and the CDC’s directives concerning COVID-19.
With the presidential election taking place this November, the UMaine College Republicans recognize the opportunity to make an impact on their UMaine peers despite the closure of the Orono campus. The group is continuing to digitally engage voters in preparation for the upcoming election.
“This can take the form of making phone calls for President Trump, hosting or attending Trump Victory Leadership Initiative training sessions and sharing with others via social media why we support the Republican cause,” Zmistowski said.
The group is also sharing information with UMaine students about summer and fall employment and internship opportunities within their party. The information includes fellowship program opportunities with the Trump Victory team and openings for a data fellow and a field organizer for the Maine GOP. The UMaine College Republicans are also assisting students that would like to work for Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign through the National Republican Senatorial Committee by providing information and resources on how to get involved with Collins’ campaign.
Both the UMaine College Democrats and Republicans have plans in motion for the coming months to engage students and create community networks to encourage support for their groups.
Kent shared that the Maine College Democrats continue to plan on holding a welcome event for the group as well as other events with local, state, and national candidates in the future. These events include community networking opportunities such as the Maine College Democrats Summer Convention. His group is also bidding for the College Democrats of America Convention that will occur this fall with the hopes that UMaine is selected as a location for the event in the future. The group is also collaborating on some projects with other chapters of the College Democrats in addition to the Maine College Democrats and the Maine Democratic Party.
Zmistowski stated that the future plans of her group will largely be determined by the election cycle and candidates’ chosen campaign methods that may be altered by COVID-19.
“We will continue to be a strong voice either digitally, or in person, for the Republican party and its initiatives. We greatly look forward to being able to door-knock once again and engage voters across Maine by encouraging them to vote red on the state and federal ballots,” Zmistowski said.
Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, UMaine students are committed to upholding the beliefs that they have worked hard to represent during their time on campus. While in-person, face-to-face interaction is not possible at this time, these student leaders are maintaining community morale and working to encourage others to support their beliefs.