Editor’s note: This column was written before the closure of the UT campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Its content may or may not reflect the current reality of student life on campus. We believe it is important to share this column to shed light on issues around campus and to honor the work of its author.
Students coming into their freshman year of college have many concerns but, undoubtedly, their biggest concern is how they will make friends, fit in and find their niche. Everyone says the key to making friends is getting involved on campus, which usually refers to student groups and organizations. But how can we form long-lasting friendships in student organizations when we’re the only ones who show up?
UT has over a thousand different clubs and organizations on campus. Some focus on bettering the community while others encourage learning new skills, but all aim to connect students and create small, tight-knit communities on this huge campus.
Unfortunately, with lenient attendance policies, very few campus organizations are actually able to achieve this goal.
Math freshman Kate Gianvecchio is part of Texas Adventure Time, a hiking and outdoor club, and has observed the effect that attendance policies have on student participation.
“I have noticed that when attendance isn't mandatory, there may be many people at the first meeting, but after that, attendance usually decreases significantly,” Gianvecchio said. “In Texas Adventure Time, anyone is still open to participate in all the hikes no matter if they have gone to any of the meetings, so very few people actually attend the meetings.”
At first thought, this may not appear to be an issue. Students have busy lives, and while they may not be able to attend general meetings, they can still come out on a Saturday to hike and have a great time. However, many students fail to realize the unseen importance of attending all or most meetings.
The UT-Austin chapter for Doctors Without Borders has recently transitioned to implementing a more strict attendance policy. In the organization’s first active semester, all meetings were optional, but this policy did not foster the cohesive and supportive student community the officers envisioned. For all subsequent semesters, they decided to make it mandatory for active members to attend three out of the six general meetings, two volunteer activities, two social activities and one advocacy/fundraising activity per semester.
“We host a lot of speakers that we think are pretty interesting, and we think these are valuable experiences for our members, but I think the biggest thing is interacting with people in person and developing that community, that bond,” said Tejas Bommakanti, a public health junior and Doctors Without Borders co-president.
It may seem that strict attendance requirements are too harsh and not realistic given students’ busy schedules, but according to Bommakanti, these requirements are necessary to get the ball rolling.
“We feel like if we can encourage attendance, especially early in the semester, you will develop that community and then it won’t be something you have to do, it will be something you get to do,” Bommakanti said.
Joining a club or organization means making a commitment, and if we want to reap the benefits, we must put in the time. Everything good requires a little bit of effort, and expecting students to be active members in on-campus organizations is not an outrageous request, but rather a simple reminder that has the potential to lead to meaningful and possibly even lifelong connections.
Taylor is a Spanish freshman from Seattle, Washington.