Last Friday I stood in the Kennedy eHub with 15 or so members of my club. We looked around at what was supposed to be a networking event — in addition to our club members, there were five or six new faces. Twenty people, most of them already acquaintances. We nervously ate from the food that would’ve fed the 50 people we thought we’d have.
Over my time at Cornell, I’ve had the distinct misfortune of putting hours of work into planning events for all of my clubs, only to have them flop. I’ve sat through leadership summits that barely filled a table, launch events with no audience to launch anything to and film screenings that turned out to be me and a few friends. It’s not fun.
And while I don’t expect every event that I or my friends throw to be a smashing success, I’ve noticed that virtually all of them succumb to a lack of attendance from outside students. Commonly, I hear reports of clubs that host events where the only attendees are its own members. Disappointing, but easy to understand.
If someone doesn’t have a personal stake in the event or they didn’t help to plan it, it’s incredibly easy to find an excuse not to attend. I can quickly convince myself that I’m too busy to go to something that I’m interested in, though not required to be at. And at Cornell, unfortunately, we’re really good saying that we’re too busy.
And so we reflect on our own events, blaming the cold or the timing for their failure while choosing to ignore the fact that Cornellians simply aren’t very good at trying new things or supporting others if they’re not forced to.
We continue to plan our events and make ourselves too busy to attend any others. And somehow we manage to be surprised when all the people who said they were interested in our event turn out to be too busy themselves. Everyone is intent on creating spaces for people to come together, but we don’t have the necessary students with which to fill them. Is it really fair for us to expect others to support our events, when we’re unwilling or “too busy” to support their’s?
It can be both scary and exhausting to go to an event without really knowing someone, because it’s hard to try something new. Several times, I’ve tried to attend all of the events in a week that interested me. It quickly becomes tiring to balance classes with clubs with work with going to events that are out of my comfort zone. It’s intimidating to show up to something alone, and even with a friend, there’s always a long list of other things that we’d be more comfortable doing.
But college was marketed as a time for us to leave our comfort zones. This is our time to branch out, to learn from others’ perspectives. And when we cancel on an event that we’re interested in going to, either because we’re nervous, or we’re tired, or we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re too busy, we’re robbing ourselves of the opportunity to grow and learn from others.
If Cornell truly wants to become the engaged, caring community it calls itself, then we have to start by supporting and showing up for each other’s work. Who knows what you’ll discover when you actually go to an event that you marked as “Going” on Facebook?
At a last-minute decision to go to an event at the Johnson Museum, a friend and I learned about an interesting class that she’s now taking this semester. I’ve been to poetry readings in the cemetery for Halloween and to dance recitals showcasing Chinese culture. At every event I’ve attended, I’ve learned something new or at least have had a good conversation. Often, I end up talking to someone about how our clubs can collaborate in the future.
We all work hard at Cornell on our clubs and our interests. Now I think it’s time we actually started to show up to some of them that aren’t our own. It’s disheartening to present on a topic that you’re passionate about to a mostly empty auditorium. And if we all know the feeling, we should be working to stop it. The next time that you mark “Going” to an event, consider actually going.
Colton Poore is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com. Help Me, I’m Poore runs every other Monday this semester.