At the UB Strategist and Role Players Association’s weekly meetings, students are bound to run into a few nostalgic relics from their childhood gaming sessions.
Yu-Gi-Oh cards and board games cover every surface of the club’s Student Union meeting space as members battle at games of wit and strategy.
Welcoming to all, SARPA is one of the dozens of UB clubs to resurface during the current wave of the pandemic. Yet that resurgence has been a long time coming for those leading the group.
For Isabelle Ingleman, a junior linguistics major who became club president last September, the process has been especially cumbersome due to ongoing pandemic-related difficulties.
“When I started in the fall, I didn’t have any of the permissions and I wasn’t officially the president in the system, so I couldn't do anything for a while,” Ingleman said. “It was rough because I was trying to start the meetings, and it’s still rough because the college could cancel at any minute, depending on what happens with COVID-19 policy.”
The continued restrictions, on top of a large gap between Ingleman taking over as president and the final pre-quarantine event hosted by SARPA, have also reduced the number of regular attendees, which McKinley Thornton, an exercise science major, notes as a noticeable change.
“Before we had a whole room we’d have set up where we’d have people there constantly, so it created a whole community,” Thornton said. “We’d always have like six to 14 people in the room at all times, now when we’re doing events [and] we don’t have that [many people] necessarily. But it’s getting larger than it was before, so it’s like a huge shift.”
But, despite the difficulties, Ingleman and the rest of SARPA’s e-board plans for in-person events to go beyond weekly meetings. The group plans to bring back UBCon for the first time since 2019 in April.
A staple event of the UB community for over 30 years, UBCon has been a hub for fans of all forms of pop culture. Scattered throughout buildings including the Student Union and Knox Lecture Hall, UBCon features an array of different vendors, speakers and activities pertaining to popular culture, very much in the vein of the famous San Diego Comic Con.
With such a large range of topics to cover, Ingleman is trying to organize the event so it touches as many interests as possible.
“It’s not just comic books. It’s general nerd culture,” Ingleman said. “There’s anime and comics and TV shows etc., so it’s not like one thing and I think it’s good because we have a lot of variety with the panels we have, you can find a lot of things that you might be interested in because we crowdsource for that.”
While the minds behind the convention are still planning this year’s panels, past conventions have featured industry legends such as voice actors from the cult-classic cartoon series “Invader Zim,” and dub voice actor Eric Vale, best known for voicing Trunks on the hit anime, “Dragon Ball Z.”
For many — especially those who have attended previous UBCons — the event is more than just the planning and facilitating process; it also gives them the opportunity to meet with fellow “nerds” and enjoy the culture together.
“I’ve been into nerd popular culture for a long time and I’ve gone to a lot of conventions, even before I moved to New York,” Ingleman said. “I thought it was really impressive that they were able to run such a big convention. Like, there's such a large attendance.”
Ingleman’s connection to nerd culture outside UB is not unique, as previous UBCons have featured 3,000-person turnouts and have consisted of students, Buffalo community members and even those who have traveled from beyond the Buffalo area to attend.
Beyond the basic panels and signings one would expect at a pop-culture convention, UBCon comes equipped with plenty of exciting activities. This includes everything from cosplay contests to karaoke to scavenger hunts.
And most notably, the convention concludes with a Nerf war held in SU.
UB SARPA held a “mini-con” last semester, which did satisfy some attendees’ boredom, but had to contend with pandemic-related difficulties, forcing leadership to adjust accordingly.
“We had Omicron come up, so they [UB] changed the rules about a week ahead [of last year’s convention]. It can be a bit of a challenge,” Thornton said. “You have to be adaptable, and you have to keep in contact with all the people [coming to the convention] that we’ve talked to, and so it can be a bit of a bit of stress. You have to be ready and keep in contact and be thorough with what you’re doing.”
While the pandemic has made holding UBCon and SARPA meetings difficult, members say these problems have only been exacerbated by the SA.
The club’s office, which is located in SU 303, was once a location where members could kick back and relax. It’s now been reduced to a storage room.
“Before COVID-19, we had an open office where anyone could hang out during the day. They won’t let us do this now,” Ingleman explained. “Their reasoning is, ‘We’re not doing club rooms,’ but all of our stuff is still here collecting dust.”
For members like Thortnon, the club serves as a way to develop leadership and team skills for post-grad life.
“I’m getting experience managing people and finding out how to organize events and communicating with others,” Thornton said. “Finding out how to work with different groups and bodies is very useful if you’re trying to do budget planning or anything like that [after graduating]. Especially with doing marketing for it, like contacting vendors, getting people interested in how to create a community — that’s all very useful.”
For students who joined SARPA this semester, the club is an exciting new place to meet new people.
Jordan Reiner, a junior business administration major, was excited to attend his first meeting last week, and sees endless opportunities for fun within the organization.
“I would definitely come here again. There’s a lot of cool people and it feels like a community,” Reiner said. “Everyone’s friendly, and it seems like you can really just grab any person and have them join you in a game of cards, Dungeons & Dragons or a video game.”
To students like Jake Frisicaro, a sophomore English major, joining the club was a difficult decision — but staying in it was easy.
“I’ve always had an interest in tabletop stuff, I’ve just never really been able to find people to do it with in high school,” Frisicaro said. “Now’s the time. I might as well bite the bullet and attempt this.”
But despite the group’s planning, Ingleman acknowledges that unless the e-board can recruit new members, SARPA’s future will be murky.
“I think that if things go back to normal then we have a pretty bright future, but if we continue to be unable to have our conventions, it might not go well, because it’s hard to revive that attendance,” Ingleman said. “So I think that if things get worse and then go back to normal it [the club] will still be able to go back to its former state, but it might take a while to get everything back up to how it was.”
Regardless of this uncertain future, Ingleman still encourages interested students to stop by the club’s weekly Wednesday meetings in Student Union 228.
“SARPA is a club that actually gives students a community, friends and events to look forward to,” Ingleman said. “I wish that SA would understand this.”
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.