What has been lost is why and how different clubs coexisted and collaborated together. All student organizations have different origins, missions and goals, but all clubs share one starting point: students coming together. Whether they came together to support a social cause, play a sport, celebrate cultures, host conferences, raise money for charities, etc., it was achieved through students mobilizing themselves. Clubs exist, regardless of charge, as a way for students to come together.
As the month of September rolls around, it is remarkable how quickly the atmosphere shifted from the comradery of students bustling to make friends to the cutthroat tension as competition intensifies to join a pre-professional club. I first saw hints of this change when I started seeing more students strutting around North Campus in suits and business casual attire. They all seemed to clump together in a sea of black suits and walked with a sense of purpose that I admired from afar.
As we approach the end of September, most Cornellians have experienced the club recruiting process in some way, shape or form. Around campus and on social media, signs promoting clubs and professional organizations are ubiquitous. It can sometimes seem a little overwhelming when you consider the miniscule acceptance rates of many of these organizations, and wonder if you’ll ever have the chance to find the club or community that is right for you.
Club culture is integral to all students’ experiences, whether they like it or not. This culture is not necessarily unique to Cornell — though I cannot definitively say or quantify its impact in higher education across the nation. Here on our campus, I see that it has created a herd mentality with both pros and cons, but from the perspective of a student founder, I believe there is a point where obsession with club culture does more to stifle the creativity of the student body than encourage it.
I speak from the perspective of an undergraduate senior who is/was involved in a few major clubs with time commitments ranging between six to ten hours per week each on average. One is a prominent dance team, a second is a well-known consulting club and another still is a university-backed project team. For the first two years of college especially, I found myself devoting a lot of time to the work and social commitments of each club — it’s worth noting that these clubs in particular were not casual commitments, although that is the nature of many clubs at Cornell.
I think of my college experience as two different stories: the first two years of which were spent building up my social experience and my clubs, and the latter two focused more on my personal endeavors.
However, students should ask themselves the following questions: To what extent should clubs be created to mirror the real world? Are these processes conducive to learning? Do they afford students the proper opportunity to gain experience, knowledge and connections? Yes, exclusive clubs create many valuable opportunities for some students (not all). So what’s the issue?
When I tell people back home that I go to Cornell, I tend to get a lot of groans. They are groans that encapsulate an outsider’s perspective of expensive private schools like ours. “Cornell” and “Ivy League” are terms that, in the public eye, are entrenched in privilege, wealth and selectivity. As much as I’d like to say the public’s presumptions about our school are wrong, the University has a lot of issues working against it which we need to address. More specifically, to fight this perception of rampant elitism on campus, we have to start with the toxic culture of Cornell’s clubs.
The low acceptance rates and peer-to-peer competition of a selective admissions process don’t stop at Cornell’s gates.
About two years ago, a Sun columnist shared their thoughts about Cornell Clubfest and included some well thought out ideas of how to fix the way that we go about our clubfest. They correctly pointed out that clubs are meant to foster your passions and interests outside of academic pursuits, and thus should allow for more room for the student to meet the club and for the club to meet the student.