Student leaders speak out about issues facing clubs

After losing club status at the beginning of the academic year due to a failure to re-register, FSU’s Green Team has experienced a revival.

The Hilltop Players, still celebrating the success of their latest hit, “Little Shop of Horrors,” is looking to secure a location more worthy of their potential.

Others navigate the ins and outs of club life, juggling registration, inter-office communication and event planning, all while hoping they can catch the attention of the community and show why they do what they do.

All of these issues – the web of interrelated factors whose balance is responsible for the wellbeing of the club – are the primary challenges student groups face, and show the true nature of what it takes for any student club or organization on FSU’s campus to thrive.

Participation

Though still not officially recognized as a club by SILD or SGA, the new e-Board’s members say they are excited to register in the fall and get to work on their ideas for spreading environmental awareness at FSU.

“Framingham really is a good environmental school,” said the team’s new president, Paolo Bon Tempo. “We need to hype that up in order to get people more interested in what we do.”

Vice President Meghan Quinn, who was on the team in the past, agreed.

“We really need to push for green initiatives on campus,” she said. “FSU is on the brink of having a very big environmental awareness.”

Formed in 2009 as part of the school’s original Climate Action Plan, the Green Team was invented as the student arm of the CAP, designed to, as the 2014 version describes, “coordinate student involvement and to help facilitate new policies involving student lifestyle changes campus-wide.”

“Initially, it was a very, very popular club,” said geography professor and original Green Team advisor Carl Hakansson, who helped develop the CAP in his role as sustainable policies coordinator.

According to Hakansson, in its first years, the club had close to 100 members, and “some very driven leaders.” These student leaders, he said, were and are the most important factor in the club’s success, more so than the influence of any faculty advisor.

Over time, however, Hakansson said the Green Team gradually lost its impressive numbers.

“With all clubs, there’s turnover,” Hakansson said, referring to the loss of club members due to graduation. “The original leaders graduated, and it was hard to find people to pick up the torch and have the same passion. … Over time, the participation in the Green Team started to dwindle.”

Quinn recalled how, by the end of last year, she was left as the only active member, and was forced to walk away.

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.

“We may have dropped the ball,” Hakansson said. “We just assumed that people knew of the Climate Action Plan and the Green Team, and that it would sustain itself. It needed to be kick-started.”

That revitalization came when Hakansson and other geography department faculty, including current advisors Jayson Funke and Kevin Surprise, advocated for the club in their classes, leading to the current e-Board.

The new e-Board members have no shortage of ideas about spreading their message, including a vegan bake sale, garden towers around campus, endorsement of reusable containers at the café and a recycled clothing event in collaboration with Crafts Club (whose president is Green Team secretary Cindy Nelson).

They said they had even conducted a survey of students to gather information concerning how interested they would be in green activities on campus, and of what variety

Now with the Green Team primed to be reactivated and become a presence once again on campus, all involved are advocating for ways to enhance participation and prevent another lapse.

“There must be awareness of our role as stewards of the environment, campus-wide,” Hakansson said. “If they were aware of that role, they would be drawn to such a club … and it would be passed down from generation to generation as new students arrived.”

He explained that the first step in developing that environmental awareness is inspiring “physical and visual awareness” of the club’s campus presence.

“Sometimes, when people see something, it sticks in their minds,” he said, noting that it’s difficult for people to feel environmentally aware while surrounded by construction sites and crammed parking lots.

He suggested structures such as a sign showing the CAP’s 15 action points, or the return of green-themed student and faculty artwork, perhaps as part of curricula.

Dean of Students Melinda Stoops echoed Hakansson’s suggestion for maintaining healthy participation in all clubs, saying, “The more a club’s activities can be visible and on the radar of people in the community, the more interest that generates. The more they can get out there and showcase what the club is about, the more likely they are to drive interest.”

Stoops also called for clubs to “plan ahead” in order to combat the loss of members due to graduation, as was the case for Green Team.

“If you know all the club officers are seniors, I would encourage them to be thinking the whole year about succession,” she said, suggesting a range of students from different classes on the e-Board so they do not all graduate at once, leaving the club leaderless.

When asked about the issue of maintaining membership in clubs, Vice President and Club Liaison of SGA Dan Costello said the school has “healthy recruitment strategies,” including Black and Gold Beginnings, club fairs and flyers.

Costello described spending a portion of his time this year communicating with clubs face to face or over email, and as next year’s president, he plans on pushing for SGA to play an even bigger role in ensuring retention of club membership.

“For students that want to be involved and want to be informed, the information is out there,” he said. “Ultimately, we can inform, but we can’t force. … Any student who meets us half way, we’ll do whatever we can to help get them involved.”

Bureaucracy

For clubs with stable participation, it can often be the processes of maintenance and carrying out their activities that become problematic.

This is especially true of FSU’s student publications, according their presidents.

Danielle Winters, president of the student literary magazine The Onyx, which is published at the end of each academic year, said her experience running the club was not positive.

This is mainly due to the frequent back-and-forth communication necessary with the printer to arrange for the specifics of the magazine. Each time the club members needed to speak to the printer, they were required to go through SILD as a middleman, Winters said, and vice-versa. The result was a three-way line of communication that, she said, “gets very confusing.

“SILD should let the presidents of publications have more control over that kind of communication,” she said, adding that she plans to bring this issue to SILD to ask for more autonomy as she prepares for her second year as president in the fall.

“We could always look at making something more efficient,” Stoops said of this process of communication for publications. “But they’re a registered club, so we, as an institution, in addition to supporting them, also have a certain responsibility to make sure that they’re following our procedures and policies.”

Upon arriving in her position, Journal of Critical Thinking President Kira Crocker found herself confused as to the specifics of what she was supposed to do in order to get her publication printed.

“There’s no solid instructions for publications,” she said. “There needs to be a timeline of what to do and when. SILD needs to at least dedicate a little more time to us.”

Furthermore, Crocker said the new online software employed by Campus Events to keep track of club events, called 25Live, has made things even more difficult.

“The semester’s over, and I still haven’t figured out how to use it,” she said of the program.

Costello said, “I know some people have had difficulty using the system. For people who don’t do it as often, it might be a bit of a confusing process.”

Club officers also expressed confusion about the process of registration required every year to maintain club status.

Former Green Team President Alyssa Duprey cited registration and other processes in maintaining the club as a primary reason for not returning, and called them “monumental.”

Current president Bon Tempo called registering and maintaining “tedious” and “confusing.”

Community Service Club President Ali McGrath, who was involved in the creation of the club last year, said the process was not easy. Unable to even get on the waiting list for a room until being officially recognized by SILD and SGA, CSC members found themselves in limbo while they wrote their club constitution, submitted it, revised it and finally submitted it again.

However, McGrath praised Costello and SGA for recognizing and eliminating this issue, with clubs now able to book rooms while the registration status works its way through the various offices.

Costello said registration could be overwhelming to new officers due to multiple forms and specific lingo, but added that it was “easy enough to pick up,” and stressed that the club liaison was available as a resource for guidance.

Ski and Snowboard Club President Caitlin Murray agreed that club processes can be “hard for those who aren’t that involved or don’t know SGA policy,” but said it is an important responsibility for clubs to learn these policies.

Apart from the complicated nature of registration, McGrath said she has found registration that registration takes place too far into the semester.

“SGA policies are what they are, but if we could do [registration] earlier, maybe at the end of the summer, it would help a lot,” she said, noting that the first days of the semester are critical in capturing and keeping the interest of new students. When the club members’ free time is tied up in registering and not in events, she said, potential members can easily slip away.

All of the issues that clubs have had recently have been exacerbated by what both Stoops and Murray called “a tough year” for SILD, which has been short-staffed with a staff member on family leave both semesters, and a resignation in the spring.

“We have certainly been leanly staffed this year,” Director Rachel Lucking said. “In some ways, it made me review the process of how you get things done. … The clubs have done a fantastic job of picking up where some of our staff would have done things. It has empowered students in a way.”

When asked if SILD’s staff size overall is adequate to handle the needs of almost 50 clubs, Stoops said those staffing issues prevent a reliable assessment. Additionally, the staff will be reorganized next year, with Lucking becoming assistant dean of students and Associate Director of SILD Claire Ostrander becoming full director. An additional staff member is being hired over the summer as well.

“It will be nice to see what it looks like when SILD is fully staffed,” Stoops said. “I think that will be the time to assess.”

Space

On FSU’s notoriously small campus, groups of any kind often find themselves without ideal space to do what they have in mind. This is especially true of student groups looking to hold events or practice for them.

“It takes a lot of patience for the students to wait for the University to catch up with the student population,” Costello said, citing the rapid growth of the student body in recent years.

Costello also referenced the 2006 reorganization of the McCarthy Center’s student space, which resulted in fewer rooms available for club activities. This happened despite a concurrent petition published in the Gatepost signed faculty and over 300 students calling for more student space.

One group that has is especially concerned about space now is the Hilltop Players.

After Hilltop’s promotion last year from a club to an organization, its difficulties in gaining adequate funding were alleviated, according to Improv Chair and next year’s Publicity Chair Tyler DeMoura. However, he explained that he and his colleagues now face the even more frustrating problem of a lack of space to prepare for their major biannual performances.

“The main issue now is that we have the money, but we don’t have anywhere to use it,” he said, saying Hilltop is at “maximum capacity” for how much it can do with current space.

Currently, Hilltop’s primary rehearsal space is in the lower level of Hemenway Hall, in the G32 and G36 lecture halls. DeMoura described the rooms as 80-90 percent chairs, and said that there have been frequent pest problems.

“There’s no room in there,” he said. “The only place we have to practice entire stage shows is on a strip of space at the bottom of a lecture hall, with roaches on the floor.

“It’s not fair that such a large club with so much potential should be stuck in an old basement that has had construction rumbling on top of it for three years, and cockroaches coming out of the walls,” he said.

“I’d like to think that we put on really good shows for what we have,” DeMoura said. “But if people want to see an improvement out of Hilltop, the first thing we need is somewhere better to rehearse.”

Naturally, Hilltop’s ideal space for rehearsing for its shows in DPAC is DPAC itself, but DeMoura said they are refused access at any point except for one “tech” week leading up to the performance weekend when they can put together sets built elsewhere.

DeMoura said the actors have to learn their blocking, or precise rehearsal of movements onstage, during the few days of tech week, as it does not translate from their small practice space to the stage of DPAC.

DeMoura said it’s understandable that they cannot be given access to DPAC every week throughout the semester, but called for at least one additional week before they begin to prepare for the performance.

In addition to rehearsal, he said Hilltop needs space to design, build and store sets for shows. This often occurs in the Green Room of Dwight Hall’s ground floor, which is shared with other clubs.

“How are we supposed to have good sets and good props if we don’t have a place to put them?” he asked, explaining that the constant disposal of materials to save space wastes money and forces the group to start from scratch for each show. “We can only ever keep a very small inventory at once.”

Due to a lack of space in general on FSU’s small campus, DeMoura said quality spaces such as The Forum become the focus of competition and “clamoring” among clubs.

“My argument is, I understand that other clubs need space, too,” he said, “but we’re a theater organization, and we don’t have a space on campus. We need one – that’s as basic as it gets.

“If they want to see an improvement in the arts and entertainment here, they have to be willing to give us a little more,” he said, noting that the recent creation of a theatre concentration makes Hilltop all the more important to the school’s ability to attract new students. With the school already using Hilltop as a selling point to prospective students, he said, they deserve an increase in usable space.

“Will they let us grow?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t they want to? By us growing, it’s helping them to grow. We want to work with them.”

Costello said he and SGA would like for clubs and organizations to have easier access to space.

“We’ve expressed our concerns, and we’re hoping with these new construction projects some new space opens up,” he said.

Of Hilltop’s limited use of DPAC, Costello said “there could be more flexibility,” but added no student group is entitled to use of resources over another.

DeMoura said that Hilltop has been hesitant to voice these issues to administrators due to a fear of either not being listened to, or having their access to key spaces reduced further.

Stoops called a lack of space “one of the most common complaints for everyone on campus” and said she is sympathetic about the problem of an adequate rehearsal space for Hilltop. However, she said that no club has any entitlement over another to access more campus resources.

For storage space, Stoops said she would be willing to explore solutions either on campus or off in order not to be wasteful of school resources, and ensure Hilltop’s freedom of expression is respected.

She called what Hilltop does for the campus “valuable” and said she wishes to support them as she would any club.

“Their needs are just different,” she said.

Advocacy

Of Hilltop’s struggle for space, Lucking said, “It would be helpful to propose what the expectation is. If we’re not sure of what the expectation is, it’s difficult to meet it.”

She said that a response to a proposal from Hilltop about space “wouldn’t necessarily be perfect,” but by “knowing the basic needs and working back from there, sometimes you can come up with creative solutions.”

This, administrators agreed, is the first step in clubs’ experience being improved: open and specific conversations about needs.

“It takes planning, persistence and communication,” Stoops said, in order for clubs to get what they want. “Communication is key.”

She added, “If SILD hasn’t heard from a club, they might not have time to help. They really rely on clubs coming to them” due to their small staff.

Of the Green Team, Funke said that no matter the specifics of the new e-Board’s techniques in advancing their objectives, those objectives must be clear, and the members must be “advocates” for them, with community outreach as a priority.

“In the end, it does come down to us,” Bon Tempo said of his club’s future success.

English professor Lorretta Holloway of the English department, who will be interim vice president of enrollment and student development in the fall upon Susanne Conley’s retirement, said she plans on emphasizing student participation in clubs next year, and is interested in hearing what they have to say.

However, like Funke said of Green Team, she said the responsibility is mainly on students to “advocate for themselves” in advancing their causes, with concrete, specific and reasonable requests. She even proposed the idea of having workshops for students on self-advocacy.

“Some clubs have the ideas, but they just don’t know how to research them, or present them,” she said. “And it’s important that they have these skills for their clubs, and for their whole lives.

“No one is entitled to anything,” she added, “unless they push for it.”

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