Joining a student organization remains one of the best ways for students to become involved on campus. With hundreds of organizations to choose from, it is no wonder that many students find themselves heavily involved with multiple groups that focus on their political and cultural identities.
But these organizations – especially large ones whose memberships can include hundreds of students – can’t always provide the personable experiences that smaller organizations can to students who are trying to find their place on campus.
Small student organizations provide a community for students from all types of backgrounds, but they aren’t given the support that they need to function effectively. Several small organizations have launched this semester, but with changes to the way the Center for Student Engagement supports organizations implemented at the beginning of this semester – it will be difficult for these groups to bolster membership and serve current and future members.
The CSE must ensure that smaller organizations are as equally supported as larger organizations. Student organizations – especially smaller ones – help students find a community on campus and without the proper support, they are prone to disbanding. These organizations can act as a support system and without them, students lose the resources and guidance that helped them adjust to campus and feel at home at GW.
The new system in the CSE assigns advisers to organizations on an as-needed basis. These changes accommodate large organizations with larger budgets, including organizations like the GW College Democrats and College Republicans. But while groups vary in size, challenges that large organizations face like funding and event planning also affect small organizations, and less-established groups could use the support.
New organizations that are still seeking registration through the CSE, including the Student Neighborhood Advisory Corp and Kehila GW are examples of organizations that would not benefit from the current advising system and could use assistance from advisers.
Before the change, all student organizations were assigned an adviser that served as a direct contact if they needed help or had questions regarding financing, event planning or leadership building. This allowed for a more even distribution of resources, and the change to as-needed advising takes away a constant resource from smaller organizations that need help the most.
While the CSE has deemed that the role of advisers has become less necessary for smaller organizations, the office has simultaneously increased the requirements that organizations, regardless of their size and active membership, must meet in order to be an official organization in the following years. Student organizations were required to attend three Excellence in Leadership Seminars in 2016, where a member attended an hourlong meeting by faculty or alumni on a number of topics including fundraising, recruiting and diversity. But starting last fall semester, student organizations are required to attend five meetings.
This increase in required seminar meetings puts more stress on student leaders to attend helpful but mostly arbitrary events that most students don’t value. The increase in meetings is also more difficult for smaller organizations compared to larger organizations because while large groups have a number of delegates who are eligible to attend the sessions on behalf of the group, organizations that are just starting out must pile attending these sessions on top of other activities they need to do to establish membership.
Putting undue pressure on smaller organizations creates a cycle of new groups forming, disbanding and forming again in the future. It’s important for the CSE and large organizations to support more niche groups. With support, organizations can help students explore their identity – regardless of what their identity is. College is the time when many students are exploring their identities and interests, and large organizations can’t always create events that cater to students whose ideologies, cultures or identities aren’t seen in more established student organizations.
Broad student organizations need to be more aware of the need that small organizations fulfill. For organizations with a broad focus and large membership, it is useful to self-evaluate about why smaller organizations have started and how they can work with one another as opposed to operating completely separately. A difference in values or focus is not necessarily a bad thing and by working together, niche and broad organizations can more effectively serve the student body.
These intersectional and niche organizations exist to provide a space for students who need a more inclusive and narrow organization. It’s important for broad organizations to understand this purpose and check their own agendas for inclusiveness and diversity. But the most necessary change must come from the CSE with how it plans to further support smaller organizations.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, sports editor Barbara Alberts, culture editor Margot Dynes and managing director Elise Zaidi.
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