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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A Brandeisian commitment to overcommitting

Published: December 2, 2011
Section: Front Page

When people think of Brandeisians, they think of students who are passionate, driven and deeply connected to a variety of activities. Brandeis does have approximately 250 student-run clubs and organizations on campus, ranging from community service to performing arts to Quidditch. Sometimes, however, students feel they can get a little too attached to their clubs and organizations—students frequently bemoan their masochism for committing themselves to so many things.

There are different ways, however, in which Brandeisians commit themselves. Jordan Rothman ’09 is one student who pushed himself to take part in a wide variety of activities rather than focus full-force on one thing. Over the course of his four years at Brandeis he took part in 23 extracurricular activities including varsity indoor and outdoor track, being a Community Advisor, a tour guide, and taking part in 19 other clubs, of which he became an officer in 10.

Rothman explained that these activities—including Debate, Union Judiciary, Company B and Waltham Group—combined would generally take up anywhere from 40 to 60 hours per week, and that in the thick of the track season it might add up to even more than that.

Erica Haas ’14 presents a different method of taking part in activities. She has focused primarily on activities relating to theater and has taken part in five main-stage shows since arriving at Brandeis; she seems intent on taking part in more as her college experience continues. Haas explained that this commitment generally takes up 10 hours per week when averaged out over the course of the semester, while emphasizing that “tech weeks”—the week prior the opening of a show­—are vastly more demanding than “non-tech weeks.” While 10 hours may seem low in comparison to the staggering 60 spent by Rothman, when divided by all 19 clubs and organizations, Rothman spends far less time for each individual club.

Rothman explained his motivations for taking part in his activities, “I was involved in a wide range of things just because I had a lot of interests and wanted to satisfy all of these passions.” He denies, however, pandering to extracurriculars for the sake of his resume. “I did indeed think that the magnitude would affect my resume, but not any clubs in particular.”

Andrea Dine, associate director of career development at the Hiatt Career Center, reiterated the push of Brandeis students to participate in many different activities.

“I think part of it is that they came in that way, being super-involved people. I think that’s the personality and type that Brandeis attracts.” Dine explained that this makes it difficult for students to drop any one activity and leads them to participate frantically in many.

“Diversity of interest and passion is what makes people stretch and try to do 20 activities a semester instead of just focusing on a few.” Dine disagrees with Rothman concerning the impressiveness of having many different activities. To Dine, it is best to be committed to just a few major ones and to be really involved in those ones. “I don’t think necessarily that more is better. I think depth is better … A student that is very involved in certain activities and takes a leadership role in those activities—that would be more beneficial in comparison to someone who is in a lot of activities but does not take a leadership role.”

Neither Rothman nor Haas have had academic issues as a result of their devotion to their clubs and organizations. Rothman explained the miniscule effect that his 40 to 60 hours of activities per week had on his academic life.

“My academics were never affected. I graduated magna, pretty close to summa cum laude and was able to finish a master’s degree during my senior year of college,” Rothman said. Rothman is set to graduate from Georgetown University Law Center this spring.

Haas gave a similar answer with regards to academics, explaining that she is still doing quite well in all her classes, but admitted that it is surprising how little negative effect theater has had on other areas of her life.

They diverge, however, with regard to social issues. College is about one’s social life as well, and to devote oneself to an activity or multiple activities does lead to the possibility of hindering one’s time with their friends. Rothman, busy with club activities, was never able to socialize very much, “I think the second greatest function of college is to be socially actualized, and I mostly missed out on this, which has taken me a long time to make up for.”

Both Haas and Dine differ somewhat, explaining the tendency of clubs at Brandeis to be a gateway through which one can make friends. According to Haas, she is able to monopolize on her time by multitasking when it comes to theater and social life, “most of my friends are in theater so theater and friends happen at the same time.”

According to Dine, “It depends on how social the activities are. It could be that the student’s social life is tied to their activities and so they’re kind of in conjunction with each other, and sometimes they’re really separate.”

Dine is of the opinion that Brandeis students in particular are driven to participate in so many things because of their vast amount of interests, but thinks that Brandeis is “very similar in many ways to other competitive liberal arts institutions.” Rothman agrees, citing his experiences with students at other universities, “I think that this phenomenon is a function of the high caliber of students at these universities.”

While Rothman presents the view that “Brandeis students view club activities as brass rings rather than a meaningful experience in and of itself,” Haas contends that it is passion that drives Brandeisians to be “insane masochists” with regard to extra-curricular activities. “Brandeis is quirky and if you like something you just really like it and you just breathe it and live it.”