University plans to require most student groups adopt open admissions policies

David Fishman, Reporter

Some student groups with application processes will have to open their doors by the end of next year or risk losing resources from the University, an official from the Office of Campus Life said.

The goal, devised last month by the Student Organizations and Activities office, will affect most groups that recruit new members through admissions processes such as interviews or applications, said Brent Turner, the executive director of Campus Life. Some groups, however — including performance and club teams — may be exempt from the policy, Turner said. He said the conversation to mandate greater accessibility has been ongoing for about five years, but his office recently decided to take further action.

“It’s a changing culture,” he said. “Student Affairs has a strategic plan and one of those tenets is to enrich the Northwestern community. What better way to do that than creating access and removing all the barriers for students to get involved?”

Turner said the University already strongly discourages exclusive groups, but at some point over the next year it will no longer recognize new organizations that reject students.

Hope Wallace, assistant director of Student Organizations and Activities, said she has met with upset students who had received multiple “heartbreaking” rejections while they were freshmen.

“The goal of having open student organizations is not to impose restrictions or to make students’ lives more difficult,” she said. “It is an attempt to build community on campus.”

Rohan Mehta, president of the Institute for Student Business Education, said his group admitted about a third of more than 200 applicants this spring. Mehta said opening membership to all might hinder existing organizations by decreasing commitment among individual members.

“It’s really hard to hold people accountable,” the McCormick junior said. “When people feel like they earned their spot in a group they feel a higher dedication to the group. … Making an abrupt change to open groups would cause a lot of pushback and a lot of disruption in how well student groups run.”

Additionally, Mehta said, the new policy might increase the likelihood that students join organizations to pad their resumes.

However, Jessica Lewis, the incoming co-chair of Northwestern Community Development Corps, said her organization could use the extra help. The community service group, which runs Project Pumpkin, has applications for its committees but opens events and volunteering to anyone.

“I don’t see a problem from our point of view,” the Weinberg junior said. “We want to have as much of the student body involved as possible.”

Some sports club teams and performance groups will be exempt due to logistical issues such as limited space and equipment, Turner said, but the policy might still impact their recruitment processes.

Ski Team president Aaron Goldblum said he had mixed feelings about the changes. He said NU’s exclusive culture was a problem but the policy might have some negative ramifications on group cohesion.

“Any organization that grows to a certain number of people loses the intimacy of their relationships between one another,” the McCormick senior said. “So by having anyone join and more people I feel like it’s going to be harder to foster a close-knit community.”

The specific goals and implementation of the new policy are still in flux, Turner said. Over the summer, his staff will brainstorm ways to enforce the new mandate, including possible loss of University recognition, which could lead to funding cuts for groups that refuse to comply.

Turner said he had already encouraged a number of groups to open their doors and had received a positive response. Nevertheless, he admitted the goal would be a “tall order.”

“It’s bold and we’re excited about it,” Turner said. “We’re being courageous, we know it’s important, and we know it’s right.”

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