Student organizations should be about quality, not quantity
UW-River Falls, as part of its marketing campaign, likes to advertise to students that it has over 150 student organizations on campus. This leads students to arrive on campus expecting a wide selection of diverse clubs with well-established members and goals.
What we at the Student Voice have found is that the total of 150 student organizations, though technically accurate, does not convey the quality of the clubs. With a university population of only around 6,000, membership across 150 clubs tends to stretch people pretty thin. Many of the clubs only have a handful of members.
When clubs are so small, it can often be difficult for the organization to have any sense of direction. With so few people, duties like outreach and marketing often fall on one or two people, and the same one or two people are often also tasked with coming up with activities and organizing meetings. The small body count also makes it difficult for new members to integrate into the club culture, and it’s hard to develop the close-knit friend groups that many people seek when they join a club.
The nature of leadership within clubs is also a problem. In most cases, leadership falls entirely on the students running the organization. Sometimes this works out all right, when you have one or two individuals in charge that are highly motivated. When those people step down, however, the club might begin to flounder and participation from the other group members will likely decrease. Student leadership is important, because it teaches valuable skills for the real world. However, this succession from one person to the next needs help in order to be smooth and effective.
We think that the best way to facilitate this succession is to have increased involvement from the faculty advisers of the clubs. Very often, advisers are merely names that never become involved in the actual workings of the organization. While this isn’t the case in every instance, many faculty are also advisers for multiple clubs, so it’s difficult for them to prioritize and lend the leadership that the organizations need. While the goal should always be that the students lead the organizations overall, faculty guidance is important so that they can set students up to succeed.
An overarching problem that contributes to this, however, is the fact that faculty are stretched thin as it is on campus. Budget cuts and staff reductions make it difficult for professors to cover their classwork, let alone extracurricular activities. Clubs are a logical first thing to cut when you’re overwhelmed with work.
This problem with thinly-stretched resources could potentially be resolved by consolidating the number of clubs on campus. This is not to say that campus needs to cut clubs. Rather, we think that a good portion of the 150 organizations are in fact very similar and could be combined. This would simultaneously solve the problem of small member counts and stretched resources.
For example, the Environmental Corps of Sustainability and the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture both revolve around the concept of sustainability. ECOS broadly advocates the concept, while SALSA is more specifically focused on agricultural sustainability. By combining the two clubs, the organizations would have a larger group of people working together. They would also bring together two ideas that, when combined, stand a very real chance of creating useful change.
Clubs are an essential part of the social experience on a college campus. We think that they should be of high quality, not just high quantity.