It’s November — nearly the end of the fall semester — and by now, freshmen across campus have done what we do best: get involved. Everyone seems to have found his or her niche in Yale’s community, which makes it easy to forget how ridiculous the process of joining clubs and organizations actually was.
It’s amazing how much changed in just three months; the same freshmen that were once frantically applying, interviewing, trying out and/or selling their first-born children to join organizations are now satisfied members of insert-your-favorite-club-here. They’ve undoubtedly come a long way. Some braved club applications that rivaled Yale’s own admission application in length; others shone in the midst of literally hundreds of their peers in try-outs; still more students stared down panels of interviewers and an unlikely few survived all these at once.
Let’s step back for a moment. These are college clubs — not fancy fellowships, not jobs and in most cases, not even organizations that realistically require specialized knowledge. Save for traveling teams whose budgets are too small to take on very many students, there really isn’t a good reason for clubs to put students through eight-page long essays or multiple rounds of interviews. Yet this appears to be the norm. Exclusivity for exclusivity’s sake is not only silly, but damaging to the quality of the Yale experience.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand the necessity of an application. I even buy why clubs need to conduct interviews or host callbacks. No student is entitled to membership within an organization. The problem lies in the sheer volume of work that’s expected of anyone joining a campus organization.
It’s a system that penalizes students who don’t immediately know what they want to get involved with. For indecisive freshmen, writing applications or interviewing for clubs becomes a full-time job because, as the old saying goes, “It’s better to have options open.”
Moreover, such recruitment processes make it harder to start new activities. One of the first pieces of advice I heard from upperclassmen at Yale was to “try new things — but nothing too new.” After all, with such limited time available and such high barriers to entry for many activities or publications, it was probably a good idea to focus on organizations that I could actually get into. This is preposterous. If there’s any time to try something new, it should be in college.
The most troubling fact of all, however, is that once a student joins a club, all this work makes it hard to leave. What happens when a club isn’t the best fit for a student? Sometimes, the student leaves or does little in the organization, having taken a spot that another student would have gladly filled. Other times, the student stays on to justify the work that he or she did to join in the first place. These problems can’t really be fixed easily, but they’re made all too common by freshmen haphazardly applying to every club in sight.
What makes this all the more absurd is that such recruitment cycles aren’t even necessary in many cases. Publications, for example, can very easily have guest writers. For performance groups and traveling teams, a recruitment cycle is necessary, but it would be easy to capitalize on all of the applicants. Why not host workshops or competitions with a small entry fee (and a prize)? Doing so not only gives non-team members a chance to participate in the activity, but can serve as a pretty effective fundraiser to boot. A good number of political activism organizations and community service groups don’t employ cumbersome recruitment applications, and they appear to be working just fine too.
This exclusivity stands in stark contrast to the rest of Yale’s culture. From day one, the University is incredibly accepting of freshmen. Freshmen aren’t excluded from campus events in any way. Unlike Princeton and Harvard, where the eating and final clubs exclude freshmen, there are no similar social restrictions at Yale. The same upperclassmen who help us move our stuff into our dorms at the start of the year or take us to lunch shouldn’t be the ones artificially creating barriers to entry for clubs.
A good share of blame belongs to the freshmen themselves. I, along with many others, should certainly have been pickier about the clubs I ended up applying for, and even more selective about the clubs I ended up joining. That said, Yale’s clubs need to fundamentally rethink the way they recruit members. We’re not in high school anymore; let’s not recreate the college admissions process during the extracurricular bazaar.
Shreyas Tirumala is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.