For past attendees of the Bulldog Days extracurricular bazaar, last week’s News feature (Apr. 9, “How many is too many?”) is both familiar and unsurprising, the picture of last spring’s event both nostalgic and stressful. It might be hard to process the article’s declaration that Yale has nearly 500 student organizations if it weren’t for the clear photographic evidence: masses of overwhelmed freshmen struggling through a maze of student activity spokespeople and their Day-Glo hued poster boards. To spend a fair amount of time at even half of these booths would require a whole day. Yale’s prefrosh event is the Metropolitan Museum of extracurricular fairs.
The article and its pictorial testimony describe the unparalleled abundance of student organizations that Yale offers. It also suggests that a clear majority of freshmen feel overwhelmed by the lengthy list of academic, cultural, athletic and artistic outlets officially recognized by the University. Even exploring the school’s extracurricular website, which doesn’t involve the nauseating deluge of sound and motion involved in the real-life bazaar, is exhausting. It also reveals the immense overlap that accompanies the proliferation of special interest organizations. We have two distinct philanthropic groups concerned with treating preventable blindness and eye disease. Do the few differences between Happyhap blog and Inspire Yale merit having two distinct organizations? Doesn’t “Save the World Club” espouse the same aims as every other humanitarian project on campus?
Our ability to specialize these extracurricular interests is ostensibly positive, but the extreme multiplicity of Yale student organizations is self-defeating. Freshmen experience a choice fatigue of surreal proportions. We often cling to the first activities we decided we liked because the prospect of further exploration is physically and mentally overwhelming; the majority of my current commitments are those I found first at Bulldog Days. Plus the relative exclusivity of many activities — those requiring audition or application — makes it tougher to transition out of our comfort zone after freshmen fall, even if those doors are still open. Making dramatic switches seems infinitely more challenging when the adrenaline rush of those first months has ended and when time is scarce. The extracurricular experience is frustrating on many fronts.
The excess of student organizations, as the article points out, is financially unsustainable according to the current budget for such activities; this budget limitation is complicated by the uncertainty of metrics for awarding funding to student groups. I overheard a friend discussing the phenomenon of state pride clubs: “I can literally just get a group of people from Pennsylvania to sign and they’ll give us money to buy food and shirts.”
Though that may not be the exact process, the procedure for gaining club recognition is anything but stringent, and the minimal regulation of how this funding is applied is clear in the number of snack breaks and happy hours across campus. Such events can certainly be important opportunities for organizational bonding and the general enjoyment of students, but these are extravagances that limit funding for other campus projects. There are undoubtedly other organizations that currently struggle to exist on limited funds.
A cappella groups and publications already self-finance — the former by performing for pay, the latter by selling advertising space. It’s clear that the school will inevitably need to limit the financing of student organizations further, but that need not occur in broad and indiscriminate cuts to the maximum allocation they can receive. Instead, we ought to make these organizations apply thoughtfully and in detail for funding for specific projects; if those projects are determined to require the maximum allocation, and offer impact and meaning in line with the goals of the organization, that seems fair.
But let’s leave organizations to fundraise for their own extravagances. This doesn’t mean denying cultural houses funding for meaningful food-oriented events, which can certainly fall under the category of impactful to the goals of such an organization. It means letting these state-enthusiasm societies sell t-shirts for a profit to support non-necessary dinners and outings, rather than expecting the school to do so. If organizations are expected to work to self-finance for luxuries, those “front” and illegitimate groups that the News article calls out are less likely to sustain themselves — perhaps even serving to limit the overwhelming proliferation of extracurricular groups, if only by a little. It also encourages overlapping-interest groups to merge and cooperate for smart budgeting and self-financing.
Fundraising is not a cure-all, but asking organizations to be partly self-sufficient is a powerful budget tool. Yale student organizations, it’s time to bring back the bake sale.
Caroline Posner is a freshman in Berkeley College. Her columns run on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.