Last year the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) announced that registered student organizations (RSOs) must accept all applicants, putting an end to competitive application processes.
According to SLI, if a RSO is caught rejecting applicants and demonstrates that it is unwilling or unable to accept all applicants, the group will be put on “provisional status.” Under provisional status, organizations lose access to University resources and the ability to operate on campus. Exceptions will be made for performance-based groups and Greek life.
SLI Director Calvin L. Smith, Jr. clarified in an email to The News-Letter that these expectations for inclusivity are not new, as outlined in SLI’s Expectations of Student Organizations. According to Smith, barriers to membership actively hurt morale within the student body.
He stated that in a biannual survey conducted for graduating seniors, and in subsequent one-on-one conversations, students claimed that being excluded from club memberships because of selective processes negatively impacted their sense of belonging on campus.
“The purpose of student organizations is to build community and these practices do not align with that goal,” he wrote.
The new enforcement has received mixed responses from RSO officers this semester, many of whom are now grappling with the change for the first time.
Junior and Co-President of the Political Science Steering Committee Mario Aguirre explained that he wants his club to be inclusive, but fears that accepting all applicants will spread club resources too thin.
“Accepting all the new members can have adverse effects on the training and recruitment process because then the club won’t be able to focus all the resources on specific individuals, and it just degrades the quality of the club on a competitive level as a whole,” he said.
Junior Sejean Yang, who is the Retention and Recruitment Chair for the Hopkins Organization for Programming (HOP), explained that the group created an entirely new membership tier to make room for the influx of members; however, it is still unclear what this tier’s responsibilities will be.
“It’s too early to tell right now whether this is going to be positive or negative,“ she wrote. “I do see the reasoning behind the policy, but it does take away the exclusivity of the organization.”
Junior and Executive Director of the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) Ryan Ebrahimy was initially apprehensive about the new rule. Ebrahimy explained that a lot of the work FAS does is confidential for the first half of the school year, so he worried that having more members would make the symposium harder to set up and run.
“We work behind the scenes. We don’t want a lot of our operations to be made public because we’re trying to assemble our lineup. We want to make sure that everything is secret until we announce our lineup in the spring semester,” he said.
However, Ebrahimy explained that his opinion has shifted since originally hearing about the change.
“I’ve actually grown to really support it,” he said. “It goes against the idea of building a community if we’re only letting a select group of students be part of our organization.”
Senior and Hoptoberfest Co-Chair Isaac Lucas said that although he, like Ebrahimy, was initially worried about the change, it had worked out well for his organization.
“When they first rolled out the rule, I was expecting that we’d get a lot more applications, a lot of people just showing up and not putting in the work, but that has been the total opposite of what’s happened. We did get a few more members than normal, but they all have contributed immensely,” he said. “We’ve gotten some of our best contributions from our new members.”
According to Lucas, Hoptoberfest still conducts interviews with all new applicants to get to know them better and make sure they are ready to put in work, although they no longer make any cuts.
Senior Christine Cho, a fellow Hoptoberfest co-chair, also felt positive about the change, reporting that it helped both her organization and applicants.
“It’s a really good opportunity for freshmen and underclassmen in general to get more involved with organizations,” she said. “I can’t really speak for other student organizations, but for us it’s been great to have a lot of new members, and every single one of them has contributed so much... It helps having a lot more hands.”
Executive Director of Student Engagement Laura Stott explained to The News-Letter in an email that the University chose to better enforce RSO acceptance rules after hearing through surveys that club rejections were a contributing factor in students’ decisions to transfer or drop out.
She pointed to one student who was rejected from 11 clubs in one year as an example of how exclusivity can be damage a person’s college experience.
Additionally, Stott noted, a significant amount of RSO funding comes from the Parents Fund. Stott explained that donations collected by the Parents Fund were supposed to be available to all students, and funding RSOs that rejected most applicants went against the fund’s core principle of inclusion.
“Parents Fund monies are designated for events and services that are open to every student. Always has been — this has not changed this year. Asking if the Parents Fund pushed for student orgs to accept all members this year is mis-informed. The principle of inclusion of all students in all events has always been an aspect of Parents Fund support,” she wrote.
In an email to The News-Letter, Junior Class President Nathan Mudrak indicated that this might be a turning point for student life and campus culture.
“This year's first-year and transfer students likely won't even know the experience of tackling the unnecessary and stressful hurdles of club admissions as they begin their college journey,” he wrote. “I also hope that it catalyzes a long-overdue conversation about our competitive culture on campus and how our actions can promote or dismantle it.”