Students translate passions into impactful clubs during pandemic – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

Although many in-person activities were suspended last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, the pandemic also inspired the creation of new CIOs, from Undergraduate Women in Law to Pickleball at U.Va., among others. These clubs have given members a space to meet new friends, find new communities and learn and grow during a long year of isolation. 

Third-year Commerce student Alexis Foster and third-year College student Mary Withycombe started Undergraduate Women in Law last spring. The roughly 50-person club discusses issues surrounding women in law and provides LSAT resources for members.

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Foster said that she decided to found the club after noticing the need for a space for women entering the legal profession.

“We decided to start the club because we felt like there wasn’t a space where women could come together and prepare for law school at U.Va. and hear directly from women about their law school and legal practice experience,” Foster said. “We wanted a place where women could assume leadership positions, and play a strong role in the types of discussions and events that they wanted to take part in.”

Foster also explained some of the issues women confront when planning to pursue a legal career. 

“Despite women being almost equal to men in terms of law school [acceptances] and [landing] lower level positions, there is a much larger gap when it comes to higher level positions in law,” Foster said. “This can also be even more of a concern when it comes to minority women in law.”

While Undergraduate Women in Law focuses on providing students with communities of peers interested in similar career paths and issues, Pickleball Club was born out of a simple desire — to introduce students to a new, active hobby during the pandemic.

Pickleball — which combines aspects of tennis, badminton and ping-pong — is a sport played with a paddle and a small plastic ball. It can be played either inside or outside on a badminton-size court.

Third-year Education student Delaney Stone and third-year College student Addie Wood founded the Pickleball Club last spring. The club currently has more than 200 members.

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Stone explained the club’s unique beginnings.

“Our club was actually founded because of an interest developed during quarantine,” Stone said. “My roommate, Addie Wood — who is now our club president — had picked up pickleball while at home, and got the rest of us interested in it in fall of 2020.”

Despite quarantine and gathering restrictions last semester, the CIOs found ways to engage with members.

Although the Pickleball Club held their first official practice of the semester on Sep. 6, they hosted a number of socially distanced group events last year. The club organized an informal tournament last November, as well as a practice attended by University President Jim Ryan in March. Stone said pickleball has become even more of a success with the return of in-person activities.

“The turnout at our interest meeting was amazing, and we’ve continued to see impressive attendance at weekly practices,” Stone said. “Things are going extremely well so far, and I think a big part of that has to do with people being excited to return to in-person activities.”

Meanwhile, Undergraduate Women in Law held its first official event this semester. Aside from a Legally Blonde viewing, Foster and Withycombe said they found it difficult to engage with members virtually last spring. Fortunately, the club hosted its first official meeting via Zoom last night. The club invited speakers from Virginia Law Women — a similar group for female students at the University’s School of Law. The meeting concluded with breakout rooms, where members were able to introduce themselves and discuss their legal interests. 

Each of the three CIOs said they hope to expand their reach over the course of the semester.

Foster’s main goal is to make Undergraduate Women in Law an official CIO. Groups may apply for CIO status through Student Council. To do so, they must meet certain criteria, such as a minimum of 10 committed members, an established leadership team and a constitution. 

“We have been working diligently to reach all the requirements for CIO status so that we can apply this semester,” Foster said. “We also would like to build community and further legal consciousness within our community of undergraduate women.”

Similarly, Wood said she hopes to continue to grow the pickleball club in the future.

“In terms of our general goals, we hope to grow people’s general knowledge and appreciation of the sport and also provide an inclusive athletic club for people of all abilities,” Wood said. “As Delaney mentioned, turnout has been big — bigger than we expected! — so we’re working to accommodate our larger numbers.”

The Pickleball Club plans to accommodate its new members by working with IM-Rec to increase the number of pickleball courts. The club also hopes to paint more lines on the existing courts and put in more pickleball nets.

Each three CIO agreed that their clubs provided a sense of purpose and community during a difficult time.