The University website flaunts the vibrant extracurricular life available to students through student organizations. With more than 300 clubs, as well as the option to create your own with University support, the website proclaims that “whatever your interests are now, or whatever new ones you discover once on campus,” you will find a corresponding club on campus. But after the initial excitement and compulsive netID distribution at the club fair, club involvement is often not all that it’s advertised to be. Despite our over-involvement in high school, at Princeton our student organizations suffer from a lack of commitment.
On the one hand, many groups, especially audition-based ones, preserve a culture of high expectations of attendance. Dance groups, a cappella groups, and other performers require and expect members to be present and engaged. But many other groups, like interest groups or club sports, suffer from an inability to maintain commitment, especially from upperclassmen. When the excitement of the first year fades, club attitudes degrade from committed to optional. With members committed nominally but only willing to sacrifice minimal time, the club culture on campus provides little of what is promised. Students excited for and committed to organizations are left to flounder, as they cannot rely on their membership.
Take two clubs I’ve been in. Spoon University is a national food blog with chapters at hundreds of universities. At other schools, these clubs host frequent events and produce a consistent and significant amount of content. I joined the Princeton chapter freshman year and was expected to write an article a month. I kept it up and enjoyed the experience, but since freshman year my most intimate and dedicated connection with the club has been leaving listserv emails unread. The Entrepreneurship Club is a robust and active organization on campus. After serving as a director for a year, a co-founder and I created a new team within the club. After a year of harassing my hand-picked team members to submit work, we decided to disband the team. These two groups required applications, but members, myself included, quickly lost motivation.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, my roommate in BodyHype would never consider missing a rehearsal and would feel guilty skipping a meeting. She feels a strong sense of accountability to the group and purpose within it. But for students who are not admitted to these talent-based selective groups (I floundered at a BodyHype audition myself), there are few club options that promise a consistent and committed membership. It seems a campus group is either super selective or barely connected.
When many of us applied to Princeton, we had to adjust the margins and subtly decrease font size in order to fit our myriad of extracurricular activities on a one-page résumé. Not only did we show up, but we were the president of a club, the treasurer of another, and the founder of a third. We spread ourselves too thin, but we understood this obsessive involvement as expected. Granted, many high schoolers love what they do, but résumé-building is all too often the driving motivation.
So, here we are in college, and this sort of résumé-building doesn’t hold the same appeal. For juniors and seniors, our early excitement of “I’m involved in a, b, c” becomes “I used to do a, b, c.” Many students sign up for and make premature commitments to student-led organizations only to realize that they’re not quite sure why they’re doing these groups. For many, there’s little motivation or incentive to attend meetings or events. In a place brimming over with ambitious and passionate young people, why can’t we commit our time to each other like we did without a second thought in high school? Why can’t we be accountable to other students the way we are to professors and our own academics?
Maybe we feel that with our intense academic schedules, it’s easy to justify skipping out on anything not explicitly required. Clubs must strike a balance between asking too much and losing members or asking too little and losing cohesion or capability. Clubs need not set unrealistic expectations or strict requirements, but students should be more conscious of the commitments we make to each other and honor them as expected, not optional, responsibilities. Before we choose to write our name and netID, we must consider why we are joining the organization. With the demanding schedule here, we must selectively apply ourselves where we are passionate rather than filling an unspoken, abstract quota of extracurriculars at the expense of our committed classmates. We should choose where we want to be and see ourselves expending time and energy, not where we think we should.
Jessica Nyquist is a junior in computer science from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.