Reed: Fall activities fair is too hectic, overwhelming to be productive

Chase Reed, Columnist

Not long after Wildcat Welcome each year, freshmen on campus have the opportunity to attend the activities fair, where student groups promote a variety of interests ranging from on-campus publications to cultural activities. I can’t speak for other students, but it does seem to me that it is a hectic and overwhelming experience.

Imagine for a moment that you’re an alien zooming through outer space, looking for a place to call home in an unfamiliar galaxy. You come across a large group of creatures gathering en masse in a cramped, beat-up room where you are pelted by an onslaught of confusion. Sweaty bodies are packed into narrow corridors between plastic tables, each urging you to stop by and yelling to draw your attention. You don’t know where to begin, and by the time you spot something you’re interested in across the room, the harried crowd pushes you in another direction entirely.

This is what it feels like for students at the activities fair. With a smorgasbord of hundreds of student groups, publications and intramural sports to look over in the span of just an hour or two, it’s easy for students to feel adrift in a sea of confusion.

In my experience, it was overwhelming to cover as much ground as possible in such a short period of time. Several times I found myself signing up for email lists of clubs I had never intended to actually join, lured in by a friendly face at a near-empty booth. Afterward, I searched the internet for a better way to determine which clubs I wanted to be a part of and encountered Wildcat Connection — Northwestern’s online hub for student organizations — which is the primary means through which students can search through student organizations, as well as reach out to leaders and learn more about what they do.

Unfortunately, this website also poses challenges of its own. For one, many of the groups listed in its directory provide little to no information of where, when and how they meet, and several groups have not updated their pages for some amount of time. Additionally, the number of student groups to peruse on the site is just as overwhelming as the number to sift through during the activities fair. Scrolling through 601 listings of organizations and on-campus spaces at once to see which ones appeal the most to you while simultaneously anguishing over the myriad of other struggles that pop up during Wildcat Welcome is a daunting task.

Eventually, I decided to focus on radio, the one interest I had already been certain of coming into college, and joined WNUR as a newscaster during the second week of Fall Quarter. Throughout the rest of the year, I relied on friends and Facebook to discover new opportunities for me to get involved on campus, and this shouldn’t be the case. Though I found that word of mouth or casual conversation were ultimately more effective means of learning about what’s on our campus, I knew I had missed out on countless openings to explore different interests during freshman year, and I wish the University had provided easier ways for me to do so.

For instance, expanding the activities fair to cover more days — as opposed to only two — would produce a less jumbled, more welcoming environment for new students to survey their interests. Likewise, a simplified overhaul of Wildcat Connection, which could take the form of a site-wide facelift or simply encouraging student groups to update their pages more frequently, would provide students with an alternate path to weed out the signals from the noise within the comforting confines of their own dorm. By reinterpreting how the activities fair is conducted after Wildcat Welcome, NU can prevent an overwhelming, anxiety-inducing experience for new students who simply desire to explore what interests them in an environment where they don’t feel pressured or lost.

Chase Reed is a Communication freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].