Jorge Garcia could feel the connections slipping away. Last summer, after months away from campus, he and a group of fellow students were hungry for the kind of social interaction they found running into students after class. They missed the energy of student gatherings on Pida Plaza and striking up conversations about national and international events.
So they spent last summer forming a new student organization — UNLV Political Science Club — as a vehicle for civic engagement and political education. Starting up a registered student organization is relatively easy at UNLV, but they weren't sure they'd meet the challenge of recruiting members on a largely vacant campus. “For a new club, (the startup) is a break-or-make moment,” said Garcia, now the club president. “A new (virtual) club loses the vital one-on-one interaction that would otherwise be available on campus.”
But their efforts paid off. The club has already attracted 80 members through the UNLV Involvement Center portal, and it has about 120 members on its mailing list.
In their two monthly meetings, the students foster a friendly atmosphere with online get-togethers as well as virtual lectures from professors and other speakers. Topics have ranged from election polling and fact-checking to Brexit and U.S.-Mexican border relations. In October, the group hosted a Latinx Heritage Month event with renowned journalist and CBS contributor Maria Elena Salinas.
Garcia, a junior majoring in political science, said he believes the meetings offer a place for students to respectfully converse about politics, filling a void.
“For that, I feel like the club was necessary to discuss the topics that have divided so deeply our nation,” he said. “The club works as a mechanism that gives folks the time to learn, ask questions, and communicate with folks who aren’t necessarily like-minded as far as politics go.”
Membership in the organization isn’t limited to political science majors, however. The group’ executive board hopes UNLV's return to mostly in-person teaching this fall will spur further growth in the young organization.
Though reaching students who are not physically present can be difficult, the club has proven it can be done, said political science professor Martha Phelps, the club's faculty advisor. “This club has just blossomed because students want engagement and students want to feel connected,” she said.