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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Activities fair puts students under pressure

Published: September 27, 2013
Section: Opinions

We have all been taught the dangers of peer pressure for items such as cigarettes, alcohol, illicit drugs and the like. DARE programs in our youth told us to stay vigilant in saying no to the forces that could transform our innocent little lives into something dark and scary. Whether we listened or actually partook is not important; The point is that we were aware of this notion that at some point in our lives, someone we knew would try to pass us a joint.

Maybe I have not lived, but I can honestly say that I have never felt as if I was in one of these “peer pressure” scenarios—until I went to the activities fair. Like a scene from some sort of alley off of skid row, hundreds of people tried to lure wide-eyed, impressionable students to sign up for their listserv or audition for their a cappella group. The fair earlier this month was particularly obscene with the festivities moved inside Levin Ballroom, and everyone jammed into a room too small for so many people. Club leaders were incessant in their desire for fresh blood, and they tried their hardest to get new members to commit.

Say that one of these students, a first-year who has arrived to a completely new place only a week prior, decides to go to the first meeting for some club that interests them. It is there that they learn more of what they can do for the club, and maybe sign up for some event. This is where they sign away their next four years for the duty of this club or team. They are ruled by weekly emails describing upcoming events. Other members try to coax them into doing more for the club, even if they might have homework to do that night, or might be a bit tired of this certain club, and want to do something else with their lives.

The problem is, however, that these students might not want to disappoint anyone by not continuing with club functions. Remember, these are people in a completely new situation who hope to make as many friends as possible and do not want to do anything to give off a bad impression of themselves. So instead of possibly telling a club to step off, they continue to just go with the flow without really expressing their feelings or desires. They might not be happy in their situation, and might not have the confidence to look the club president in the eye and tell them that they will not be showing up any more, fearing that they will let them down.

If they do decide to stop showing up, it could seriously affect their self-esteem, especially if there is an upperclassman that might be disappointed by their absence. And with each successive email from the listserv, the student remembers how things ended and they feel poorly that they disappointed someone, perhaps someone they respected. The mental states of these students are resting on a bubble created by the perceived acceptance from these clubs, but if they start to doubt and want out, that bubble will burst, possibly leaving nasty results.

Of course, clubs, teams and other extra-curricular activities are great ways to get involved on campus, meet new people, and build other skills that might not be evident in the classroom. And when students sign up for these at the activities fair, there is typically some interest from the student in whatever they are signing up for, and they might discover a talent they did not know they had by signing up for something completely new.

People are not being lured into dangerous situations. We are all adults, and we should be able to handle letting someone down or telling a team captain that we can not make every practice this week when we have a heavy workload. It is not that difficult to let our feelings out, and the other side of the conversation will typically understand and not take it personally.

First-years could end up pledging themselves to a club for their entire college careers due to just a miscommunication or irrational fear of disappointing someone, and that probably is not the best way to spend these few years between leaving home and taking on real responsibility. Clubs should realize that maybe they are not the most important thing in the world, and should take it easier on the new members who might just be looking into something to see how it fits them.