As I attempted to navigate through the crowd of mostly freshman at the activities fair, I could not help but reminisce on my experience during my first few months of school. The memories have faded, but the feelings and emotions of anxiety, social pressure and trying to find a home are still strong.
I, like many students, found myself tagging along with anyone I saw. I wondered who my best friends were going to be or if I was ever going to find a group of individuals I enjoyed being around. I wondered if there would be a time where I could just be myself and not put on a facade to impress people.
The early days were quite a preview to an acting career for many of us. Our faces indicated we were having fun, while our hearts yearned for honest company. Our faces stated that we had transitioned very well, while our hearts yearned for a home.
Among the first places incoming students turn to are organizations and clubs on campus, whose recruitment processes are determined solely by us, upperclassmen. Freshmen are often shocked to learn that there lies a multi-step process for them to find their home. Sometimes, this process includes application essays, rounds of interviews, coffee chats, meet and greets and even dress codes.
Does this process really have to be this stressful? Should we really make it this difficult to find a community at Penn? What are we actually gaining from it?
While by no means should we lower the caliber of our organizations, it is important to ask ourselves if each part of the process is absolutely necessary. Would our organizations really suffer if we took out the coffee chats? Are three interviews really necessary? As we ask ourselves these types of questions, it’s important to consider the costs to the freshmen as well as the actual benefit to the clubs. Yes, the meet and greet might have great intentions, but if it causes the freshmen to put on masks rather than feel free to be themselves because they feel stressed and the need to impress, is it really beneficial in the end?
Another facet to consider is how our recruitment process aligns with the goals and mission for our organizations. If the goal of our organizations is to serve the Philadelphia community by volunteering, should our process contain multiple essays and interviews? Why should there be a hard barrier for people who want to volunteer? If we are a non-competing dance team, why can’t we take more people? Logistically, for some organizations, these changes might not be possible, but these are certainly questions we should continue to ask ourselves.
Some of the first themes heard during Convocation is discovery and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones. New students are encouraged to try activities they hadn’t tried before or had always wanted to try. But how do they try new activities if we solely evaluate applications on prior experience and accomplishments?
With so many organizations on campus, we feel a pressure to differentiate our organizations from the rest by priding ourselves on the notions of exclusivity. But what is this all for? Will it matter when we graduate, when our role on the executive board was just a mere memory? If we are just continuing a precedent that was set or imitating similar groups to “stay in business,” why do we have to follow the negative trend? Why can’t we create a positive trend?
As upperclassmen, it is quite easy to believe that our transition to college was a breeze, facing limited obstacles along the way. I mean it just sounds better. However, contrary to the facade we many times like to don, the transition was anything but smooth for many of us. Instead of shying away from these memories, let’s embrace them and use them as a catalyst for change.
Let us not be afraid to deviate from precedent to enact change and make the University a healthier place. Let us not forget what it’s like to be an incoming student trying to find a home. Let us not forget that each of us has the power to make Penn a more welcoming place.
JAY SHAH is a College junior from New Hyde Park, N.Y., studying biological basis of behavior and South Asia Studies. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the Vice President of the Undergraduate Assembly.
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