Gray Fund in the Era of COVID-19
Although Reedies tend to be known for their academic excellence, there’s one field where they seemingly don’t excel: having fun. In an attempt to enrich the lives of students, faculty, and staff outside the classroom, longtime Reed College supporter Betty Gray endowed the college with a gift to be used to plan social, cultural, and recreational activities. Since that gift in 1992, Gray Fund has been helping students have meaningful experiences outside of their academic careers.
In a typical year, Gray Fund plans a whole variety of activities and events: weekly bingo nights, spring break trips to the Oregon coast, hiking trips, concerts, and sporting events are all activities that have been planned in the past. These events don’t just spring up out of the ether; there’s a whole team of hardworking people that make sure these events are as fun and successful as they can be.
Many of the people working in the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) are brand new — two assumed their positions in March 2020, right before the COVID pandemic completely changed the college’s operations, and one began in December 2020. Hellie Smith, Gray Fund Trip Coordinator, has been in her position since her freshman year and has more context for what Gray Fund looked like in the before times.
“My job is usually to plan different programming off campus,” she said. “In the past it’s looked like… sports games, concerts, and a lot of different culinary and arts workshops. [We also had] on campus events where we [would] bring speakers and performers on campus.”
While Smith’s job focuses mainly on off-campus events, Weekend Program Coordinator Beq Yonaka’s responsibilities revolve around on-campus programming. “That would be trivia, or bingo, or movie showings on campus,” they said.
Smith and Yonaka also work with two staff members to plan Gray Fund events. Director of Student Engagement Janice Yang oversees all of OSE, including Gray Fund and the Gray Fund committee. Gray Fund Program Director Amanda French oversees the student coordinators and helps with planning events.
Since French, Yang, and Yonaka all assumed their positions post-COVID, they had to dive right into adjusting Gray Fund programming from its previous state. The biggest change has been moving events to a virtual platform.
“Because we’ve been really limited in terms of not being able to go off campus and, more recently, not even being able to kind of convene even a small gathering of students, we’ve had to really focus on the virtual aspect while still trying to maintain connections between students and faculty and staff, because Gray Fund encompasses all three populations,” Yang said.
Weekend events typically held in person have moved online. Yonaka explains that although all of the events they plan have moved online, they aim to preserve the fun and social atmosphere these events had in the past despite the virtual format. Gray Fund coordinators have also planned one time workshops for students to participate in, such as a paper quilling workshop with Assembly PDX, a local craft and DIY workshop, as well as a chocolate tasting workshop where students tasted chocolate and learned more about its production — an event that was so popular that Gray Fund is hosting it again this semester (unfortunately, the lottery has already closed). Other upcoming workshops include a pressed flower collage class and an origami class.
Since the advent of COVID, Gray Fund has also shifted their attention towards more passive, individually-directed activities. These have mainly been in the form of “take and make” activities, where students sign up to receive an arts and crafts kit in their mailstop to do in their own free time. These have included a paint-by-numbers kit and a punch needle embroidery kit; Smith says that Gray Fund plans to have even more of these kits available for students over the course of the spring.
Although almost everything about how Gray Fund operates has changed, the why behind it hasn’t. Everyone who works on Gray Fund cites connecting students as a driving force motivating their work. Even though things have moved online, everyone hopes to continue to create spaces for the Reed community to connect and have fun with each other.
While planning COVID-safe events can be an arduous task, the coordinators and directors find it worthwhile because of how much joy the events bring to students. One event in particular that many people involved with Gray Fund enjoyed was a socially-distanced roller skating event hosted during fall 2020. The Rose City Rollers, Portland’s local roller derby league, brought their Skatemobile to Reed campus so students could safely learn to skate with their friends.
“It was a great idea, and it sticks out to me because it was one of the few times that we were able to gather a larger group of students and have them do something really new and take advantage of being on campus,” Yang said. “It was nice to see students release themselves and have joy on a beautiful autumn day. … I hope things will improve so that we can get back to those kinds of experiences again.”
Everyone who works on Gray Fund works hard to come up with ideas for fun and engaging events, and they’re always looking for suggestions from the community. OSE recently created a Google Form so community members can suggest ideas for events. If your idea is chosen, you’re guaranteed a spot on the trip or in the event.
Gray Fund coordinators emphasize that programming is always happening. “If you’re ever super bored, and you’re thinking, it’s a Friday or a Saturday night. Is there anything for me to do? The answer is: probably!” says Yonaka.