September 17, 2019

LIM | Actually, Keep Clubfest as It Is

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A noncontagious epidemic of sore throats and 18,610 posters and quarter cards en route to choking a landfill somewhere: These, alongside mailing lists misleadingly bloated with marginal interest, are what remain of the clamor of energy Cornellians heaved this past Sunday afternoon. Upperclassmen might note the dull familiarity of recycled tri-folds displaying faces long since graduated, barely pausing as they leave their shift for More Important Things. Those browsing might find themselves frustrated by the maze they glaze by in search of specific clubs.

But though I question some of her excesses, I’m starting to recognize something amazing yet understated about the way Clubfest brings the breadth of our campus to the cavernous body of Barton Hall.

Anyone else faced with the impossibility of winning interest for an esoteric club might share my initial jadedness. Tabling for a small Christian choir in a secular university, people who approached me turned out to mostly be asking for directions elsewhere (not that I knew where Row H was — further testament to the chaos of the place). Unlike the newly founded Cubing Club, effortlessly blossoming from six to 85 members, we didn’t find nearly as many weathered hobbyists eager to relive the joys of sight-singing polyphonic church music.

Admittedly, it took me four semesters of overenthusiastically scaring off prospective members to learn the power of passivity: Our highest rate of signups came when I briefly left the table abandoned on a bathroom break. It’s near impossible to hard-sell something niche without generalizing away its essence; I also neglect that most people arrive at Clubfest already with a clear idea of which section of Barton Hall they plan on beelining to. As a freshman, I remember the quarter cards being shoved in my face as indistinguishable obstacles, and still today receive meeting reminders from listservs I haven’t set aside the time to take myself off. Having experienced sending emails out into the void, and nonetheless acknowledging the situation to be vastly different for more popular pre-professional clubs, I ponder the extent of labor and resources wasted on self-promotion indifferent to the wants of the audience.

It is precisely the overwhelming magnitude of Clubfest that inspires more specialized iterations. I was fascinated to learn that an AAP Activities Fair, the first of its kind, was incidentally held a day after, hosting 22 clubs both directly and tangentially relevant to the three majors of the college. In the efficient span of roughly an hour, and within a space conducive to one-on-one conversations, clubs ranging from literary magazines to specialized forums were found by the right people. Running me through the scope of organizations AAP Ambassadors worked with, President Alp Demiroğlu ’21 anecdotally mentioned that one particular magazine had thanked them three times for the invitation after the event. A representative from the Mapping Society who had tabled at both fairs also said that knowing that their audience was already familiar with the technicalities of spatial analysis made discussing the club easier.

Retrospectively, I briefly wondered if a more specialized platform similarly targeted would have worked better for us. This was quickly interrupted remembering my experience earlier this year at Spirit of Cornell, a fair for religious organizations held on the lawn of Anabel Taylor, and how sheepishly harassing peers on their way to Collegetown was no more effective and probably worse. Definitely worse, since most of them just wanted to get home. But I also remember last Spring’s Clubfest, and how casually looking up at the club tabling across from mine brought me to the Cornell Political Union, which I otherwise would never have considered joining. While definitely very peripherally involved, I nonetheless am grateful for the ways it’s opened my mind, and trust I’m not alone in greatly benefiting from opportunities serendipitously discovered amid the din.

It is within this plethoric din that not just unanticipated clubs, but also perspectives can be found. On the way to the aforementioned bathroom break, I caught the eye of someone brandishing a “Boycott Beef” sign: When I respond, “I’m Vegetarian,” she enthusiastically quips, “Go Vegan!” Asked later, the Cornell Vegan Society made evident their sensitivity to the way Clubfest draws a lot of people of diverse interests in their belief that it was a good venue for dialogue, specifically about the role of animal agriculture in the Amazon fires that occurred this summer.

While the prominence of a club can be determined by the physical presence of members, the prominence of a perspective transcends it. Most other clubs founded just this semester with a membership of just three people are unlikely to have caught the eye of passers-by as sharply as Jewish Voices for Peace. As a new club having no access to funds for quarter cards, they spoke from a tri-fold they characterized as “political, but not offensive or provocative” alongside printed flyers on current events.

Minimal as it was, this already drew the attention of what member Avi Simon ’22 found “a surprising amount of negative attention” received mostly from fellow Jewish students, with valid questions but disagreements on the discourse on principle; gentler curiosity was also received in conversation. Overall, he characterized their presence as minor, and meaningful engagement as limited by the size of the crowd. While the latter is not something I was present to comment on, I can imagine the impact so novel a voice nonetheless might have had, and will continue to have, on campus.

And so perhaps it is precisely reflections of this — the unanticipated, that which broadens our mind and makes college the constant surprise that it was built to be — that justifies some extent of the excesses we swim through and labor for. And perhaps novelty, no matter in the form of an unfamiliar martial art or otherwise unheard perspective, is sufficient reason for Clubfest to remain the disorienting, deafening confusion that it is.

Kristi Lim is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at kl782@cornell.edu. Riskit Kristi runs every other Wednesday this semester.