Inclusion on Campus: Let’s Get Real About A Seat For Everyone At The Table

Inclusion on Campus: Let’s Get Real About A Seat For Everyone At The Table (Courtesy of Ilana Drake)

College is a transition for everyone, despite any prior experiences with handling challenges. I remember last year, my freshman year, so well. I had prior experience of attending sleepaway camp and being away from my family, but I was placed in a forced triple which came with its own set of challenges. (I almost considered sleeping in the library.) While the transition to a university is difficult by itself, I feel that there are extra barriers that stand in the way.

I recently wrote an article reporting on students’ experiences entering university clubs. Unlike high school clubs, many of the clubs students in this article discussed were competitive and had their own procedures with regard to applications. 

Now in my sophomore year, I would like to shed light on my own experiences to let students know that if they are in this position, they are not alone. While it can seem like everything comes “easy,” that is far from the truth. 

I entered my freshman year with curious eyes and a smile that came with excitement. I was looking forward to meeting new friends, and I had been told that clubs were the “best way” to cultivate a community. 

I considered rushing sororities at my school, attending Pop-Ins to meet with members, and, after events, I would share my experiences of this early process with my friends from other schools who did not know much about Greek Life. Although I did not end up rushing a sorority, I will add that Greek Life has its own set of issues which have recently come to light. However, outside of Greek Life, I did not find the “normal” club process to be similar. 

The question I started asking became “When am I good enough?” 

Last fall and last spring, I was applying to “professional” clubs with numerous application components. Most of these clubs had an information session where they would present the “success” of their club members. I was only 18 and hearing about where students were landing post-graduation roles. Some of these clubs not only had the standard application, which takes time to fill out, but they also had extra rounds if you “passed” the application or resume review. The extra rounds were ones of video interviewing, in-person interviewing, projects or networking. 

One of my friends is a year younger than I am, and he is not applying to any of these “professional” clubs, despite his interest in entering these fields. He wanted to apply, but he was deterred by the need to be an extrovert to network. He is a “natural introvert” and did not feel comfortable with the need to meet new people constantly. 

My own experiences and his experiences point to one of the flaws within this system. It is difficult to be an introvert when there is a “need” to constantly interact with students your own age in order to gain entry into a club. I recognize how there was a need to promote ourselves to our peers. As someone who also was planning to rush, I can say this applies to sororities as well. 

At this point, I understand that I can be scrutinized for my SAT scores, my parents’ occupations, where I attended high school, my hair color, the types of shoes I wear, the neighborhood I grew up in, as well as the sports I played in high school. I remember how one of these organizations asked me about my STEM specialized high school and proceeded to ask about my father’s job title. This felt like an invasion of my privacy. 

One of the organizations I am considering applying for asks me to write a cover letter. I do not know how much to reveal about myself, given that my peers are reviewing these materials. I do not feel comfortable sharing my GPA with my peers, given this is one small portion of myself. I was raised to believe that grades are a private matter and for myself only. 

I know the pressures of being a teenage girl all too well. I was one of the girls who considered multiple organizations of clubs, from social justice organizations to Greek Life. Yet, I also am someone who is introspective and acknowledges the impacts of organizations at large. At 19, I am still figuring out everything. I am by no means perfect, as I will say a lot to my friends, but I am also someone who sees all of the different perspectives. 

My decision not to rush a sorority, as well as this year not rush certain professional organizations, is one that seems to be “looked down” upon. Greek life as well as professional organizations are hallmarks of a status symbol on campus because of their exclusion and selectivity. 

I need to speak about inclusion and acceptance. 

Some of these organizations preach “diversity and inclusion,” yet do not recognize how the application process or the selection criteria impact students who are seeking a community. I know this first-hand, as do many of my friends who were curious about these organizations. My dad actually joked with me about starting a “relaxation club” due to the stress students face in certain spaces and situations. 

I recently attended three club information sessions in a row and almost skipped dinner. This would not be the first time that skipping a meal has become a “norm,” but I also wonder what the cost of happiness is. In an age of college students’ mental health worsening, we need to remember how everything has an impact. 

Why is there not enough room for all at the table when the stakes are low? Why do we have to draw the circle so small? Let’s invite everyone in.

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