Hopkins must do more to support its student groups

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | September 19, 2019

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Hopkins prides itself on offering students the opportunity to pursue their passions, whatever they may be. On campus tours, guides promise prospective students that it is easy to join student groups or start their own clubs and organizations. The Campus Life page on the University’s website depicts Hopkins as a place where students can pursue their diverse backgrounds and interests, whether they’re into “singing or kayaking, taking pictures or building robots, discussing international relations or playing Quidditch.” 

“We encourage our students to form their own clubs, so there are more than 400 undergraduate student-run clubs and organizations,” the website reads. 

However, on Monday, Sept. 16, the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Committee on Student Organizations sent an email informing Hopkins students that applications for new clubs will not be accepted this semester. The email stated that the “committee will revisit opening the applications for new organizations and reestablishment next semester.”

In any case, this new policy poses barriers to students’ abilities to fully explore their unique passions and interests during their time at Hopkins. It also raises questions about SGA’s and Student Leadership and Involvement’s (SLI) effectiveness in overseeing the funding process for student organizations.

In the Sept. 16 email, SGA explained that the ban on new student groups will take place while they work with SLI to conduct student organization audits. The audits will examine how existing student groups have been funded in the past, and follows the revelation last fall that dozens of clubs are thousands of dollars in debt. Students leaders were unaware of these debts, in part because SLI failed to effectively communicate with them.

This year, this trend of miscommunication and budgetary issues continues. Many current organizations were let down when the Student Activities Commission allocated their annual budgets this fall. Many groups received much lower funds than they requested and this was especially common among arts groups. 

Administrators have explained that this is because students incorrectly filled out the required forms. However, we believe that this is, in and of itself, a problem –  budgetary paperwork for student groups shouldn’t be so complex and difficult that Hopkins students repeatedly make mistakes when completing it. Rather than punish students for inaccessible forms, the University should consider fixing the problem on their end. If they make the forms easier to fill out, there will be fewer mistakes.

Moreover, the email from SGA announcing the ban on new student groups was vague and raises many questions. It does not explain who is responsible for the decision to suspend the creation of new student groups: SGA or SLI. It also does not go into much detail about how the audits will be conducted, or how they will help alleviate student organizations’ debt. 

As students who are part of various on-campus organizations, we are concerned about this lack of transparency. But we are also concerned about the effect that the decision to bar the creation of new organizations will have on new students, who started the semester excited to create their own niche at Hopkins. These students are now left without a creative outlet or the ability to carve out their own space in the Hopkins community. It is unfair to promise our freshman unlimited opportunities for involvement when they apply, and then to underdeliver once they arrive on campus. 

We understand that it will take time for SLI to conduct their audits. However, it is a disservice to students that they not only have to jump through numerous hoops to run organizations, but that they are now banned from creating them altogether. If Hopkins cannot increase its transparency and streamline the student involvement process, it should at least stop promoting the idea that it is easy to form and run any student organizations. For the current semester, that will simply be untrue.

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