BY Chandrea Miller
During the height of the pandemic, Trojan Scholars Society, the official student association for USC merit scholars, launched a virtual book club. The idea was championed by TSS co-chair Bethany Baudhuin.
“I’m a big reader,” Baudhuin said. “When everyone is walking down looking at their phones, I am looking at a book.”
Serving the more than 2,000 Trojan scholars, the TSS student organization provides academic, intellectual, and social activities for their scholar community.
However, when the university transitioned to online, the TSS executive board and co-chairs had to brainstorm about virtual ways to continue their work.
Andy Jones-Liang, assistant director, USC Academic Honors and Fellowships, and staff advisor for TSS, said they agreed that a virtual book club would be the perfect fit.
“TSS is a scholar community,” Jones-Liang said. “A book club would allow students to engage intellectually and also serve as a social outlet.”
And something else—“A wellness check,” said Jones-Liang. “People were feeling very isolated, so if this was purely a means to get people to connect, we’re fine with that.”
And the TSS members seemed hungry to connect.
The society’s co-chair, Samantha Zhang, said within the first 24 hours of announcing the virtual book club, 100 scholars had signed up. Upperclassmen and lowerclassmen were paired together to establish deliberate mentorships.
“We basically assigned pairs of book buddies,” Zhang said. “We assigned them based on their major and their grade levels and hoped they would have things in common and develop that one-on-one connection.”
The initial feedback from the students indicated an appreciation for this programming.
“There’s so much uncertainty and we really want to make sure that we are doing our part in helping them feel welcome to the Trojan community,” Zhang said. “Where they can have spaces for dialogue and check-ins is going to be key to helping them be a part of the experience here at USC.”
Depending on social distancing restrictions, the virtual book club could continue in the fall.
“We do have a semester budget,” Zhang said. “Usually a lot of that is spent on ticketed events like the orchestra, a show, or a first game, and obviously, those events probably won’t happen for a while, so buying people books and getting them to read is definitely a great way to use that money.”
And if the virtual book club doesn’t return, those online book buddies will become in person buddies around campus, which is just fine with TSS co-chair Baudhuin.
“Whatever you’re doing to get people engaged is really just a means to an end,” said Baudhuin. ”Whether or not, you think people are going to be able to talk about a book for an hour, it’s just getting people to a point where they can connect with others—that’s what really matters.