Stepping into Dillon Gym during the Activities Fair is an exercise in overstimulation. Club members dance around you, sing at you, thrust candy in your face, grab your arm and pull you toward the table before you are even aware what group they are representing. Pretty soon you sign away your webmail inbox sanity to the Princeton ________ Society just to get away. You walk in as a naive freshman trying to find some group to belong to and walk out trying to get out of belonging to all these groups.
I walked into the fair with a plan. I knew which three groups I wanted to scope out, and I was ready to power through the crowd. Get in, get signed up, get out. Oh, how clueless. The fair map with its organized little boxes just didn’t match the barrage of signs I saw before me. I gave up on the map. Instead I roamed the chaotic aisles. Want to sign up for the Bulgarian Undergraduate Society? Why not. How about putting your name down for the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society? It couldn’t hurt. I stumbled out hours later laden with pamphlets, sugared up on free candy and more confused than before.
The activities fair comes at the end of the sheer hysteria that is freshman week. When freshman week begins on Saturday, everything excites. We go to open houses, performances, free food giveaways, trying to figure out who we’ll be in college besides students. Why not go to the Wa at 4 a.m.? Why not take Swahili? Why not beat the Santa in the marching band? The honeymoon period continues through our first days of classes Thursday and Friday. With no labs or precepts we can handle the work. So why not sign up for a few clubs?
The problem, and what a great problem to have, is that Princeton has so much to offer that freshmen don’t have enough time to figure out what they want to do before they are asked to decide. There are so many possibilities, things I didn’t even know were possibilities (read: Bee Team); I couldn’t limit myself to only three clubs. The second problem with the timing of the activities fair is that freshmen don’t have a good idea of their “curriculars” before they sign up for extracurriculars. Administrators warn us about big workloads and time-consuming activities, but it takes a week of solid classes to understand.
If the activities fair were just one week later, freshmen would have a sense of their homework load and a more realistic idea of how much time they could spend with clubs. Sure, we would still sign up for too many; that’s unavoidable with the number of intriguing choices available. But we would make more realistic choices, and the groups would benefit from getting a higher percentage of students signing up who are truly committed.
One extra week of activities will not make a big difference in the long run for most clubs. Groups without performances to cast or competitions to train for can survive an extra week without their freshmen. Meanwhile, groups that hold auditions could still do so as scheduled. The activities fair could be split into one for audition groups on the Friday after freshman week and one for non-audition groups after the first week of classes. In fact, this would allow students who didn’t make a certain group the freedom to choose another activity to pursue. And, students who did make it into an audition group would have a better idea of their time commitments before signing up for non-audition groups.
Currently, groups excited about the high number of prospective members see those numbers gradually dwindle until they are left with the active members they were trying to attract in the first place. So what? Isn’t that inevitable? Groups don’t expect all those who sign their names to stay with the group anyway. And sometimes a person who puts his name down on a whim will end up getting really involved. True. However, groups planning open houses mindful of the number of people who signed up would be able to better anticipate the numbers that would actually show up to events if the fair were scheduled one week later. This doesn’t mean that everyone who puts his or her name down will be dedicated. But it would help freshmen avoid the pamphlet pandemic and help groups limit the missing members phenomenon.
Because, honestly, as I walked out of the fair that Friday with my complimentary Princeton Student Agencies bag brimming with pamphlets I didn’t actually think I’d join all those clubs. I just didn’t know yet which of the multitude to consider and which to trash. A week later with new books piled up, syllabi in hand and a writing seminar essay in the near future, I weeded through my pamphlets to see which activities I actually wanted to join. Only two made the cut.
Rebecca Kreutter is a freshman from Singapore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.