If only Columbia clubs were like Club Penguin.

Bwogger Nadra Rahman gave up on student groups after being rejected from EcoReps her freshman year, so this might be a good idea.

In the second-to-last meeting of 2017, CCSC took a step back and focused on an initiative that the Finance Committee has been working on all semester—student group reform. In case you’ve missed the surveys and op-eds, CCSC’s contention is that certain student groups are overly exclusive, feeding into a culture of stress and ultimately, leading to an unfair use of our student activity fees, which fund all recognized student groups. Last night’s discussion allowed the working group (consisting of VP Adam Resheff, Inclusion and Equity Rep Elise Fuller, and VP 2021 Skye Bork, among others) to debrief the general body and take into account their feedback.

The Proposal

The group’s presentation began with a breakdown of student feedback on the project. Some interesting stats: 62.7% of survey respondents have been rejected from clubs; and 46% (nearly half!) feel as though they don’t have access to the clubs and activities they wanted to join—partly explaining why so many students feel estranged from the campus community. Bork elaborated on this, describing the importance of student groups in the transition to college life, and emphasizing the fact that many first years “still haven’t found their place yet.” And according to the survey, many students feel unable to pursue new interests because certain organizations expect past experience, penalizing newcomers (some of whom might lack prior experience because their high schools didn’t have the resources). All of which is important, but why does CCSC care?

CCSC’s interest in the issue is two-pronged: (1) On one hand, CCSC is charged by its constitution to build and nurture community, and on the other, (2) student government collects student activities fees and disburses the money to governing boards and external funds that in turn fund student groups. If student groups are so exclusive that most students are ineligible from the start, that constitutes a mismanagement of students’ tuition dollars. To the statement that the club application process is analogous to the real world, the group preemptively responded that the two situations are fundamentally different. At Columbia, you’re paying for clubs you can’t benefit from and have no access to. And to the charge that exclusivity helps build community between the people who really care about the issue/industry/thing, the retort was that other students are then subsidizing that sense of community in a way that is essentially unequitable. So in the end, it all comes down to student activity fees and the accompanying expectation of student group openness.

The proposed product of the project is a set of flexible guidelines that will determine whether groups are open, and potentially an adjudication process—that might result in groups losing funding if complaints are brought against them. But this would be an extreme step: the group envisions a collaborative process in which student groups, CCSC, and governing boards work together to facilitate inclusivity. As for the guidelines, suggestions for groups include scheduling regular open meetings, open projects, or training sessions (e.g. for performance groups). The application process might be altered so that students would no longer have to submit resumes, be subject to more than two interviews, or receive generic rejections. First year students might also experience a period of no solicitation, during which they can get to know the student groups they are interested in before running for office.

The group noted that performance groups (a capella, dance, and theater) and mentoring/peer resource groups would receive exemptions from some guidelines due to logistical difficulties.

The Response

USenator Omar Khan led the counter, asking why CCSC was stepping in to facilitate student group openness when the individual governing boards might have more expertise in the matter, as they are more aware of the histories and idiosyncrasies of their clubs and can better tailor guidelines. Resheff said that centralized change would be easier to implement and more consistent, but conceded that the governing boards are an important part of the conversation, and will become more enmeshed in the process after CCSC is done hashing out exactly what it wants to say and do. But Khan wasn’t done; he later wondered whether CCSC teaching clubs to be more inclusive was “paternalistic,” posing the question, “Are we really qualified to gauge the inclusivity of [these clubs of] our peers?” Other members, such as 2018 Rep Matt Neky, felt as though CCSC had a responsibility to take action in the light of student complaints, particularly as student groups do engage in discrimination (against GS students, for example) and governing boards have yet to implement change. The conversation did, however, convince Fuller to wonder if CCSC might be more effective in a liaison role.

Other concerns surrounded the arbitrariness of the exemptions. Why would a debate club have to host open training sessions but not a dance group? Theater groups spend a lot of time rehearsing plays and focusing resources on a single, finite cast, but doesn’t mock trial do something similar? It got a bit muddy when Fuller said the exempted groups had partially obtained their status because they already tend to offer open training sessions. At one point, the president of a debate society gave a presentation speaking to this point, stating that open practices are unfeasible because the style of debate the club uses is not useful for a general audience. He also echoed 2018 VP Emily Lavine, who suggested that hosting training sessions might create a weird dynamic between the teachers (those who got in) and the students (those who got rejected), predicting a “divisive social environment.”

2020 Rep Grant Pace asked if the initiative was misguided from the start—a few open meetings do not a community make. Might it be better to simply direct students who have been rejected to less competitive, more open groups like Orchesis?

To recap, CCSC is not pushing to have all clubs accept everyone who applies; rather, they are trying to make sure that student groups enhance community (and use our money well) by providing all students with a way to get involved, in whatever small way. Questions are still swirling about the role of governing boards and the effect on student groups, but it seems as though much of the student body is engaged with this issue and desires some sort of remedy, whether it comes from CCSC or another body. At any rate, the discussion was tabled, as half as CCSC had already left the room.

We Love Other Schools

With minimal discussion, CCSC voted to sign onto this Scholarship Displacement Resolution, which already has signatures from student governments around the country. Though this is no longer a problem at Columbia due to policy changes a few years ago, many students face problems when they receive external scholarships, as these scholarships then reduce the amount of aid they receive from their schools. (At Columbia, external scholarships take away from a student’s expected work contribution.)

They also signed on to a letter addressed to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and focusing on proposed changes to Title IX at universities. The letter was penned by Georgetown’s student government and currently has around 90 signatories.

Selected Updates:

  • Also during the meeting, CCSC voted to unanimously co-sponsor the Black Students Organization’s Kwanzaa Ball in the amount of $50.
  • 2021: This class is beginning an initiative called “Meme of the Week,” in which students can send in memes “they feel have impacted them.” We are truly living in the future.
  • 2018: The last Lerner Pub was a “raging success.”
  • USenators: A few quick takeaways from the Quality of Life survey—Thumbs down for the accessibility of space, fitness services, and mental health. Thumbs up for public safety.
  • Alumni Affairs: CCSC is co-hosting a coffee chat with FLIP on Wednesday, December 5, from 6 to 8 pm.
  • Finance: CCSC contributed $5,300 to the $10,300 that will be disbursed by the Capital Investment Fund.
  • Communications: Don’t miss the deans, longsleeves, mugs, and hot chocolate at the winter celebration this Wednesday, December 5, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm in Low.
    • VP Comms Alex Cedar felt “grateful to be able to plan [the Tree Lighting],” which he termed an “iconic Columbia tradition.”