“Everyone here is just too busy.” “The club recruitment process is overly competitive.” “Why is it so stressful?”

There are some topics that The Daily Pennsylvanian writers return to year after year, not, I imagine, for a lack of creativity, but because some problems doggedly persist in our school year after year after year. Busyness, over-commitment, hyper-competitiveness, the club recruitment process — problems fester, unresolved. Recently, while airing my grievances to a friend, she suggested that I should “write about it.” And for some reason, a sick, sinking feeling just hit me in the stomach. 

What else is there left to say? What else is there left to write?

We know we renege on our appointments. We know we are busier than we actually need to be. We know that we don’t make time to rest, to relax, to just indulge guiltlessly in leisure, as much as we should. We are acutely aware of the stress and mental health issues that plague this campus.

We all know that some of Penn’s clubs — stretching from business clubs to a cappella groups, from dance groups to club sports — have competitive application processes that induce yearly flurries of worry, stress, anxiety, and disappointment. We know that it makes finding a home hard. Most of us have had our insides die a little when we receive rejection email after rejection email. A few of these rejections leave us a little more wounded than we expect; they haunt us. We don’t need another DP article written to tell us about them.

Now as an upperclassman, with growing responsibilities in student clubs, I have become more sensitive — uncomfortable even — with the “recruitment process.” It’s starting to feel like some warped Stanford Prison Experiment — I exaggerate. People become the power they have and take on the roles of authority they are given. 

We are collectively complicit in this annual circus of interviews, suit-and-tie events, and application essays, dressing our “call for applications” and “congratulations” and “info sessions” with important-sounding language. If all of us want to fall into collective amnesia, forget how it felt to be “on the other side,” and remember the past through rose-tinted lenses, “memoria praeteritorum bonorum,” so be it. DP columnists will still be writing about this 10, 20, 50 years down the road, hammering the wretched life out of these topics.

But what if this can change with us? 

From freshmen to upperclassmen, student club member to club president — we all have our own “spheres of influence,” no matter their size. We are able to bring things up during meetings, we can start our own initiatives, we can spark dialogue and action. Are our clubs’ recruitment processes congruent to our clubs’ goals? 

How do we settle on the “limit” of students we take in each year? Why do we impose a limit on the number of people we can take? Lack of funding? Resources? Have our clubs tried hard enough to apply for more of these? Are we spending more time creating hoops and obstacles to curb numbers, or instead innovating ways to respond to increasing interest?

If we are on any school-wide councils in charge of distributing funding and resources, what can we do to promote inclusivity among the clubs we look after? Is this something we are willing to prioritize? Can we “challenge the process” and be open to suggestions and change? Can we make “finding our homes at Penn” a little easier for everyone?

Can we make an effort to be the ones reaching out to others, instead of lamenting that no one is reaching out to us? Is there anyone you’ve been wanting to “grab a meal” with? Can we find it within ourselves to be a little less busy, a little less competitive?

Or are we going to continue beating this horse black and blue, venting our frustrations, wishing Penn’s clubs would become “more inclusive,” that “others” would be less competitive, and that Penn would just be a nicer, warmer, friendlier place — while refusing to acknowledge that we do have power, that we do have small spheres of influence? We should believe that one day, when all our little spheres of influence collide, and all our tiny efforts come together, we will indeed see a newer, better Penn.


SARA MERICAN is a College sophomore from Singapore. Her email address is smerican@sas.upenn.edu. “Merican in America” usually appears every other Monday.

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