Editor's Note: If you are a freshman or transfer student hoping to join on-campus student groups, check out Michael and Kevin's letter to new students.
The first few weeks of the semester as a returning student are bittersweet in many ways. On the one hand, you come back to the hustle and bustle of Locust Walk, return to classes and schoolwork, and reunite with friends from your clubs. On the other hand, you come back to a world dominated by competition, a constant grind, and the need to decide who will be next to join your groups and your communities at Penn.
This time of year is especially tough as you might find yourself rejecting many new students from the organizations that you care about most. It’s disheartening, draining, and demoralizing to have to tell new students that they cannot share in the experiences that have been so impactful in your time at Penn.
Oftentimes, the competitive culture of Penn causes us to have the mindset that rejection is necessary, clubs need to seem exclusive, and turning students away creates an illusion of elitism that brings status to the club. This leads us to unnecessarily turn people away from our groups simply for the sake of maintaining exclusivity.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Rejection need not be a necessary evil in every situation. There are many organizations on campus that could have completely open membership if they changed their mindset. These groups could welcome as many new students as are interested in joining. Not only should groups be open to this idea, but we ought to celebrate groups that have open membership for their pioneering efforts to be inclusive and accepting of as many new students as possible.
However, we understand that certain groups have limitations — whether from funding, mandated size constraints, or some other restriction — that prohibit them from taking everyone in. In that case, rejection is an unfortunate reality for many potential new members.
Where you, as a member of student groups, can make a change is in treating the applicants to your clubs with more respect. You are uniquely positioned to reduce stress on people who are embarking on their first few months here at Penn.
It starts by being human. Don’t ask interview questions that garner a laugh at your potential new members’ expense. Take the extra few minutes to copy and paste the potential new members’ names into the salutation of the rejection email instead of just writing “Dear Applicant.” Provide feedback on how a student can improve their application should they want to reapply. Connect students that you are unable to take to other similar groups that might offer them the opportunity to join.
These are actions we should all take, not because we were all once new students, but because we all have a responsibility to treat each other with respect.
Creating a strong community at Penn is something to which we all must contribute. The first semester at Penn is difficult enough — it’s one of the biggest transitions people face in life. We as members of the Penn community ought to humanize the club recruitment process, work toward a better culture, and help everyone find their home here at Penn.
MICHAEL KRONE is a College senior studying political science and economics. He serves as President of the Undergraduate Assembly. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
KEVIN MYERS is a College senior studying philosophy, politics, and economics. He serves as President of the University Honor Council. His email address is email@example.com.