The Student Activities Council is asking a very important question — what to do with $1 million.
This academic year, SAC has $1,001,067 allocated from the Undergraduate Assembly to distribute to the 201 student groups it recognizes.
SAC, which had instituted a moratorium to freeze funding on new groups in January 2011, lifted it in September of that year and since then has accepted applications for new clubs.
In order to apply for recognition, clubs must register online with the University, hold an organizational meeting and interview with SAC’s Executive Committee.
In the interview, clubs must prepare a constitution, supply a list of programming and have group members and fill out a questionnaire.
According to SAC Chair and College senior Melissa Roberts, before club members begin the process of SAC recognition, they should first ask themselves a few basic questions.
Niche on campus
Before a group can apply, it must have existed independently for a year. Roberts said this proves “whether it fills a particular niche on campus that is not already being filled by another group.”
In considering a new club, SAC asks questions like whether the club generates student interests and if it really adds to student life on campus.
In October of 2011, Naeemah Philippeaux and Ibie Longjohn founded an a cappella group so they could use music to make people smile.
Philippeaux and Longjohn, who graduated in May 2012, created Disney A Cappella, a community service-based group that sings in hospitals and schools. They just began the process to receive SAC recognition.
The club also raises money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a fitting charity for a club founded “just to make people smile,” said College senior Brittany Smith, the current president of the group.
Philippeaux and Longjohn were inspired by other community service arts clubs on campus, Smith said, such as City Step. Disney A Capella hopes to be the option for civic-minded singers.
But not all clubs on Penn’s campus are inspired by other clubs. Some, such as the Penn Consciousness Club, begin from something personal.
Justin Broglie, a 2012 Engineering graduate, was inspired by his own spiritual life to start the Consciousness Club.
“I started the Consciousness Club after experiencing very serious depression during my freshman year of college,” he said. For him, mental health and well-being is “a big dilemma here at Penn and in college in general.”
Along with Lauren Reifsnyder, a 2012 Nursing graduate, Broglie founded the Consciousness Club in 2009.
For Broglie, the club serves a unique and vital purpose in the Penn community.
“Many students suffer from anxiety, depression,” he said. “Do we need to be motivated by fear? [Is that] part of college?”
One of the Consciousness Club’s challenges is bringing to light an issue that is “against the grain” of Penn culture.
Luke Unneland, on the other hand, is trying to create a group that will feed off a part of Penn’s culture. This fall, he is working to start the Automotive Club at Penn.
Cars are a part of Penn culture, he explained, and he found it surprising that no automotive interest club made it to the list of clubs at Penn.
“Penn has so many clubs,” he added, “[but none have] to do with automotive interests.”
Sustainability and legacy
“I know [the first year is] something a lot of new clubs struggle with,” Roberts said. “We want to see that you’ve been successful for a year.”
This allows SAC to judge, without guessing, if a club has a sustainable structure. Proving sustainability also comes down to a board structure that includes students from different class years. According to Roberts, one inspired student isn’t necessarily sustainable.
Clubs are constantly seeking younger members in order to carry on their legacy when they graduate. Many recognize that a club has to be meaningful for people to stay on.
When Smith joined Disney A Cappella in the fall of 2011, the club was brand new. Smith was looking for a community service outlet and found much more through the group.
“I had no idea what I was getting into and I’m so glad I did take that risk,” she said.
For Smith, a new club offers benefits such as leadership roles and freedom to steer the club.
“My favorite experience I had with Disney was going caroling at [the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania],” she said. “As soon as I got to the hospital and started singing down the hallway … I’ve never had rewarding an experience at any of my other activities at Penn.”
Affecting a larger community can give a club more purpose. According to Broglie, the Consciousness Club has impacted more than five hundred students’ lives in its past three years on campus.
Katsiaryna Malykhina, a College junior and the current president of the Consciousness Club, feels that the club works on a very personal level.
Initially, she was surprised that she could share the personal experience with other members of the club.
Broglie is confident that the club can only benefit from new and diverse members.
“Every semester, the club [takes on] a different shape,” he said. But in his experience, every semester can bring “a group of students who are willing to be dynamic and push for wellness.”
Getting individuals invested in a club doesn’t happen overnight. For Unneland, simply getting the word out has been difficult.
“I really hope to expand membership,” he said. “That is my biggest challenge right now.”
“It’s hard flyering [on Locust Walk],” he said. In four hours, he only got three signatures for the club. But the club is slowly growing.
Before Unneland graduates in three months, he hopes that he can start up the Automotive Club and have it cruise.
Balancing the budget
Besides serving students’ interests, clubs must also stay out of the red.
SAC recommends reaching out to academic departments, partnering with other clubs and seeking funding from organizations such as the Intercultural Fund and the Social Planning and Events Committee.
For clubs that don’t qualify for SAC funding, these alternatives are the only options.
According to Roberts, even though SAC has lifted its freeze on funding, other umbrella organizations for clubs still have freezes on recognizing new groups.
If a club can’t get recognized by its umbrella organization, it does not qualify for SAC funding.
After a year subsisting on fundraising, Disney A Cappella is seeking SAC recognition in the hopes of getting the funding.
“Everything [during our first year] was basically out-of-pocket,” Smith said.
Smith, who is also a member of Strictly Funk, knows the benefits of SAC recognition go well beyond just money. Smith believes that SAC recognition doesn’t just offer money; it grants a club a degree of legitimacy on campus.
“Everything just comes so easy to [Strictly Funk] because we’re already recognized on campus,” she said, adding that, “it really does help to be under SAC recognition.”
The Consciousness Club, which offers the YES Wellness Course — a meditation, self-exploration, mindfulness and community service class — faces significant costs as well. After two successful courses, that were student-funded, the club has received partial funding from SPEC which it will use for the YES Course this Sept. 13 to 16.
“Ideally, this could be completely paid for by Penn,” Broglie said, adding that the club wishes to obtain complete funding from University sources such as Counseling and Psychological Services.
As president, Malykhina is also interested in partnering with religious, psychology and neuroscience groups.
Joining the club of clubs
SAC doesn’t stop guiding clubs after they get official recognition. SAC general body meetings offer an important resource for clubs, which is why missing two results in an immediate loss of funding. According to Roberts, this is the most common reason clubs get derecognized.
“We can’t in good faith give money to a group to spend when we can’t see that they have a board that can send someone to a meeting,” Roberts explained.
Luckily, reapplying is a simple process — although it comes at the cost of a 10-percent budget cut.
Applying a first time for SAC recognition, however, can seem a daunting task for many clubs.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Smith admitted. “It is harder than I thought.”
However, it is Smith’s dream that Disney A Cappella will be recognized by SAC by the end of this year. And if any clubs that knows how to get a fairy-tale ending, it’s Smith’s.