Letter to the Editor: New Student Organization Symposium attendance requirement was harmful to student groups, wasted time

Each year, Student Organizations and Activities hosts a mandatory Student Organization Symposium for incoming leaders of executive boards, typically presidents and treasurers. Each University-recognized student group must send two representatives to this five-hour conference. Failure to comply could mean loss of recognition, and therefore the ability to reserve meeting space,access a Student Organization Finance Office account and recruit new members at the Activities Fair.

The symposium consists of a guest speaker discussing about leadership, as well as breakout sessions dealing with topics such as Wildcat Welcome, effective advertising of student events, and constructive community engagement. This year, SOA has instituted a new policy stating that one student may only represent one student organization. As many Northwestern students are aware, many students who are on one executive board are also on other executive boards. Because of this new policy — which was announced May 1, for an event held May 7 — many student groups were forced to scramble to find an executive board member who is not already attending on behalf of another club.

This new policy ignores the reality that for students, time is precious. Five hours of the weekend is a large commitment, especially for a member who did not sign up for a leadership role. More significantly, many of us work on Sundays. To ask some of us to give up five hours of paid work is to ask us to forgo buying groceries or paying utility bills. A university committed to a need-blind student experience should recognize that taking time off work is a privilege not everyone enjoys. By implementing this rule, SOA is forcing students on executive boards to find extra people who are willing to sacrifice their time and money to attend a conference as a proxy for a leader who will already be present.

The policy also ignores another reality: Membership in multiple student groups is virtually the norm. The one student, one organization requirement does not make practical sense: The officers in question will be at the symposium regardless, merely signing in under the auspices of a different group. (The suggested solution from SOA is to ask general members to come to the event — extra bodies who are not in leadership roles, nor the intended audience of a leadership conference.) Furthermore, small groups are put at a disadvantage, as they have fewer people to bribe, cajole and plead with within their organizations.

Finally, the requirement means that with 400 student groups, 800 students were expected. However, at least 100 students were left to sit on the floor or in “overflow” rooms, and many others did not receive lunch as promised. Presentations were often on irrelevant topics, such as earthquake preparedness. It was the general student consensus that this event was a wasteful and disrespectful use of students’ time, and if it must be held at all, it certainly does not need to last 5 hours.

Sophie Brauer, Weinberg ’18
President of the Association for Undergraduate Women in Science