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University needs refresher course in how to keep student groups up-to-date

Throughout the year I have been frustrated with the University's meager support and encouragement of student groups. Incoming Vice President of Campus Life Janet Dickerson — who will undoubtedly energize student life when she arrives in the fall — has already remarked in an April 12 'Prince' article, "I notice that you don't have much money for student activities . . . At Duke, our student organization [budget] is about $1 million a year. Princeton has a fraction of that. I think there are ways we can get students more money." This is true. I have trouble understanding why the University has only recently attempted to revamp students' extracurricular lives.

Underfunding, however, is only one form of the University's past neglect of student groups. Here is another: In October of this academic year, I formed a student group called CommonSense with two of my friends. We filled out the forms to become officially recognized as a student group and made a Website to spread the news. We quickly realized, however, that the one place on the Princeton Web where students can learn about student groups — the Dean of Student Life office's Website — did not contain any information about us. Throughout the year, we sent numerous e-mails to the Dean of Student Life's office, asking it to include on its Website a link to the CommonSense Webpage and a brief description of our group.


For most of the year, we were ignored. Even as I write this, our student group's Webpage — which is the primary source of information about the organization — is still unlisted. In fact, the student life Website has not been updated since Oct. 29, 1999. While this may not surprise you as a fact by itself, comparable institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford manage to keep their student group listings reasonably up-to-date.

In addition, some student groups that have gone defunct or who no longer update their Websites are still listed. For instance, the very first student group the visitor reads about on the Office of Student Life's Website is Acción Puertorriqueña y Amigos. Though Acción Puertorriqueña y Amigos, which describes itself as "a student organization dedicated to building a large, united and healthy Puerto Rican community with a strong cultural identity," is still in existence, its Website gives every indication that it is not. The homepage was last updated on Feb. 28, 1996. Its list of officers includes two members of the Class of 1997 and one from the Class of 1998. Its list of upcoming events indicates that the date of the elections for its 1998 board will be announced shortly. As far as the Website suggests, there is no Acción Puertorriqueña y Amigos — which certainly does not induce students to get involved. And yet new groups like mine, which need attention and publicity to attract new members, are a sight unseen. There are also numerous links on the student life Website that are broken. For instance, if you try to go to the Website of the Anthropology Club or Princeton Juggling you will get nowhere. This should not happen — the Dean of Student Life's office ought to make certain that its Website accurately reflects the number of active student groups at Princeton.

The staff at the student life office is undoubtedly very busy and doing the best it can. This is, in part, why the situation has worried me. Even with the entire staff working overtime and at a frantic pace, student groups are still not receiving the attention and support they need to flourish on campus. Perhaps this is indicative of the University's past lackluster efforts to maintain and encourage extracurricular activities at Princeton.

But I have hope for the future. The University, much like a hobbled elephant, is slowly moving forward and has recognized this problem. First, the decision was made to appoint Janet Dickerson as Vice President of Campus Life. She is a very energetic woman who wants to change things at Princeton. Her experience at Duke, where the campus life is vibrant and dynamic, will help her transform our University for the better. Second, for whatever reason — perhaps it was my annoying persistence — the Dean of Student Life's office has promised to update its Webpage this summer to accurately reflect the current existence of student groups and their Webpages at Princeton.

If there is a renewed dedication to supporting student groups generously on campus, as I suspect there is, then I feel no need to bemoan the coming end of this academic year. Instead, I relish the arrival of the next.