What’s the Clamor About Clubs?

in Editorials | September 22, 2023

          If you were on campus last Thursday, September 14, you were likely at the annual Club Night. Spanning multiple floors of Mem, Pop, and GCAD, Club Night saw folding tables, chairs, posters, and most importantly, students, pack the halls. This scene mirrored the stereotypical school event where students decide what they will do outside of academics and athletics, during the few gaps in the schedule where they are granted “free time.”

          However, as you stayed longer, these surface-level similarities and club night stereotypes gave way to some notable differences. At this year’s Club Night, for example, there were an equal number of students running booths as those running around and signing up for said clubs. You may have noticed that instead of club leaders describing what their club does to interested students, they say, “you don’t even have to come to meetings, just put down your email!” and “yes, this club is extremely low-commitment; you won’t have to do anything!” Perhaps you found peers who you never interact with outside your classes suddenly called out to you in a hey-we’re-good-friends-right-so-please-sign-up-for-my-club voice in order to bump up the number of filled-out Google Sheets rows. For those cherished and treasured email addresses, some club leaders resorted to emotional manipulation via bribery or guilt-tripping (I’m looking at you, Philanthropic clubs).

          A couple of inferences can be made from these small observations. Overall, Lawrenceville club culture seems to be marked by a couple universal truths: the number of sign-ups for an email list serves as a form of currency, most clubs see a lack of overall commitment throughout the year, and students are inundated with an overwhelming number of clubs. These three truths serve as the basis of the Lawrenceville club culture. But why?

          During the pandemic, most of these student-led organizations that once served as spaces for people with shared interests to gather could no longer serve that purpose. After those two years in which only the most resilient clubs still met on Zoom, the School saw a general loss of institutional knowledge on how to run clubs. Student leaders who knew how to amass a crowd of involved club members and organize regular meetings graduated, while the younger generations of students, for the most part, never learned these necessary skills. 

          The result? Club leaders who don’t know how to reach out to their club’s constituents and don’t know how to hold meetings. Many clubs died this way. (Of course, we also have to recognize that a club’s fate can’t always be attributed to the student leader’s competence.) At the same time, because clubs couldn’t fulfill their purposes for two years, we seemed to have developed a warped perspective of what clubs are. Instead of organizations in which people can accomplish tangible things, form communities, and explore hobbies, we just have leadership titles made for college applications. Then, the name of the game becomes “collect as many club leadership roles as you can!” in order to really beef up that resume. The result? Students, mostly seniors, take on leadership positions for four to five clubs and then do not have enough time to commit to any or all of them. These clubs then become defunct and are crossed off the club list next year. But now, there’s a vacancy of leadership roles to go around and fill college applications, so what do students do? Start their own clubs! Of the 206 clubs that were present at Club Night this year, 80 were new. Last year, 70 were new. Many, nay, most, of these new clubs won’t make it to the academic year of 2024-25. In fact, only 35 out of 131 non-philanthropic/affinity/publication clubs from last year made it onto the club training exemption list, a list that Ian August, the Director of Student Life, felt represented clubs that were well established (met often enough and had enough members). 

          Another huge contributor to the current club culture is, of course, a general lack of time Lawrentians have to actually commit to clubs. Clubs can really only meet from 6:00 to 8:00 PM on weekdays, which is not nearly enough time for 206 different clubs to meet at least three times a term, especially when we factor days off and the clubs that have to meet more often. Not only are club leaders stretched extremely thin, so are club members. This lack of time translates into why our student body finds “low-commitment” as an appealing trait for clubs, when in reality “commitment” should be. So, if people aren’t committed to clubs, but clubs still need a minimum number of members in order to stay on the club list, we get Club Night, a free-for-all where students sell their dignity and use sleazy tactics to earn as many sign-ups as possible. This quantity over quality mindset is why so many of us receive countless emails for clubs whose meetings we will never attend.

          We’ve established that the club culture at Lawrenceville looks quite bleak: overworked leaders, uncommitted members, and resume fillers that strip away the integrity of clubs. However, hope on the horizon still exists. This year, August has set new firm guidelines for clubs: They must meet at least three times a term and have at least five members per meeting. Any clubs that don’t meet these requirements for the Fall Term will be cut from the Club List for the Winter Term. He hopes that with this policy, by the end of the year, an infrastructure will be established for clubs that are committed and that there will also be room for new clubs. The Board does not believe that the club culture will be “fixed” this year, but we’re already seeing changes. More and more of the clubs that we signed up for on that fateful Thursday night have reached out and scheduled meetings. Though this slight change did mean more emails, maybe this increased communication will also mean more committed members and more thoughtful club creations. Maybe one day, clubs will finally serve their intended purpose: as organizations for students with a shared interest to meet up and form a strong community.