During the first few weeks of freshman year, I was very impressed with the number of extracurricular and sport opportunities that appeared around every corner. There were so many different ways that I could spend my time outside of class, whether through club and intramural sports, campus publications, acapella and dance groups, or the investment clubs that Princeton offers. Over the course of the semester, I became more heavily involved in certain activities, while losing interest in others. A new sport or a new group can be totally engrossing for a number of weeks or even days, but then it may slowly fade to the background as interest is lost. I think this is normal. The issue is not with how one respectfully withdraws from activities, but rather with the long wait that one must endure before joining anything new.
It is much more tormenting to realize that I wish I had joined a particular group than to simply lose interest in something I am already a part of. In the beginning of the year, I was not only unsure of the amount of time that I would have for extracurricular activities due to my coursework, but I was also unsure about the time commitments of each activity itself. By the time I was better informed and had a clear idea of what groups I was able and eager to join, the fall semester was all but gone. I would not be able to join my desired clubs as part of the fall intake. To my dismay, I realized that with a rare few exceptions, most clubs at Princeton do not have a spring recruitment process, and so joining these organizations would have to wait longer than I thought.
Extracurricular activities are great opportunities to bolster friendships and get to know new people too. But this only works if we are actually able to join activities. The lack of spring recruitment means that we often have to wait a whole year to get involved in something we are passionate about, with people who we want to be with. With only four years of college, we don’t have much time to waste.
Princeton needs a more legitimate, formalized system for spring extracurricular recruitment. The University should organize another extracurricular fair akin to the one at the beginning of the year in Dillon Gymnasium. This would not only allow clubs to swell their ranks with new, enthusiastic membership, but it would also give students another opportunity to learn about and get involved in new activities. Those students that did not know exactly how much time they would have for extracurricular activities, especially freshmen, would be able to make a more informed decision about what to join in spring. Those who have discovered new interests and passions would be able to get involved earlier, and make the most of their time at Princeton.
Of course, clubs have autonomy over whom they take as members and when they take them, and I am not proposing that the University somehow force clubs to consider new members in the spring. I concede that it might only be smaller, less popular clubs that would be most open to a spring recruitment program. But I also think that the positive experience that these clubs will have with spring recruitment and the talent that they will able to recruit will eventually prompt every club to see the advantages of opening their doors to new membership in the spring.
The advantages for clubs are numerous, and the benefits for passionate potential members are clear. Students trying to join an extracurricular activity in the middle of an academic year, especially first-years, are more conscious of the expectations that a club has of its members. They are less likely to join just for the sake of joining, as I sometimes was guilty of during my first semester. Clubs would also be able to rely less on second-semester seniors to carry the load, and can use the spring semester to train new members and thus decrease the large influx of totally new and inexperienced members every fall.
Opening up spring recruitment would enable more students to experience the joys of belonging to the community of an extracurricular club. I received a few emails through my residential college email chain about opportunities to join certain clubs in the spring, but these were the exception, not the norm. Clubs and their leadership should make a serious effort to reach out to new members in the spring, because everybody should be able to find a home and a community through an activity that they enjoy, with a group that they like.
Tom Salama is from Bayonne, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.