Over the past 10 or so years, the crusade to improve student organizations has focused on programming. The creation of the student activities fee and the subsequent funding board reforms increased groups’ financial capabilities. The ongoing discussions about space are trying to make it easier for groups to find places to program. Although the obvious mission of organizations is programming, their function on campus is to facilitate social life.
As easy as it may be to forget that student groups are social groups, this is a huge factor explaining why people join them. We can justify the importance of student organizations for their pre-professional role and the leadership experience they provide, but we can’t forget that, more importantly, student organizations provide the foundation of the vibrant Georgetown community.
The authors of the 1999 Student Life Report called for a movement away from drinking and basketball as the centers of student life on campus. Student organizations have the potential to be that replacement. If we want to maximize the student experience, we have to focus on the role student organizations play in the life of the average student, and not just those on the executive boards.
The Philodemic Society is the perfect example of a student organization that exists outside of their programming. Besides their weekly debates and after-events at Martin’s Tavern, Philodemic has built a social structure, culture, and institutional memory that is enviable to any aspiring group on campus. They have four-year tenure of individual members and a culture of theatrical self-importance (I say this in the most endearing way possible) that is mirrored by their room in Healy.
The fact that “Philodemicians” have a room is important, because it grounds the group in an actual physical space. Despite being traditionally occupied by Philodemic since 1830 and having the group’s name above the door, the President’s office annexed the office in the late ‘70s. This forces the Philodemic Society to ask permission to use their room.
I use the Philodemic Society as an example to demonstrate that the administration doesn’t recognize this role organizations play in the lives of their members.
Another example I want to use to demonstrate the administration’s view of student organizations is their policies regarding office space, specifically in the context of the Voice.
According to the administration, an office for a student organization is for work only. This agreement reflects the administration’s view that students don’t own the space they use—students’ money and the work they put toward creating a campus life is merely rent we pay to use the Georgetown name.
This view on student-owned space is nothing new; the 1999 Student Life Report described a situation where the APO service fraternity was moved from the Copley basement to a much smaller space, where they had trouble finding volunteers for events because not enough people would frequent the office. “When APO described these problems to the Office of Student Programs, the response was that an office is not a place to spend time, but simply a business center where messages can be retrieved or supplies stored.”
At the Voice, we lost our office in the fall for violating our office space agreement—for treating the space as more than work space. If I may wax nostalgic for a moment, the office had the culture and institutional memory that made a great institution plastered all over the walls. Every piece of furniture, every wall decoration, every inside joke involving $10 bills, every issue cover, and every weird, hipsterish, liberal, intellectual, self-importantly counterculture piece of paraphernalia had a story behind it. The office was so much more than workspace—it was the memory center of the institution. And apparently having a personal attachment to what was supposed to be workspace went against the office use agreement.
Reducing paperwork, red tape, applications, restrictions, confusions, and other institutions deleterious to student life is important for creating vibrant student organizations. We also need to look at how we can bolster groups as institutions, and that starts with recognizing groups’ autonomy.
Wanna hear Ryan Bellmore bitch more about the Georgetown administration, ANC, and student life? Well, keep it yourself because he’s leaving at email@example.com