How many clubs is too many clubs?

2016-09-05-77

by Eden McEwen ‘17

Who remembers club fair? The throngs of underclassmen and overeager club leaders put on the show of a festival, offering everything from mini donuts to fun sized candies to samosas as not so subtle bribes for student emails and half hearted pledges of  interest. The Fitness and Athletic Center last September was stuffed with dreamy promises of a club filled future. What happened to those promises?

The first weeks of a club are glorious. As a long time club leader I can tell you 30+ people at a meeting feels like an early Christmas. But by Christmas, the email lists or Outlook group members dwindle from plenty to enough to depressing. That is just the number of those willing to receive the weekly emails, never mind who actually bothers to show up.

Why does every club season have such a drop off? And why, every fall, do two dozen clubs pop back up just to die before November? It seems that we have too many clubs and too few club survivors. The culture of clubs at George School follows a steep wave of interest, but there must be a secret to those who survive the winter.

The long lasting clubs are easy to name. Argo, JSA, MUN, Body Project, UMOJA, Open Doors, Goldfish, and Java. They fulfill the basic needs of club culture, hitting on the basic interests of George School students. Other clubs have been born and died all the while, or existed as a “why not” instead of a “must have.” They are harder to name, as they come up only as we laugh at the yearbook page in May. Anyone remember PRO, or maybe Puzzle club? Terra, Beatbox Club, Medical club, or Young Writers? They have come and gone, but existed for the hot second long enough to be featured in an decently size club photo taken in late October.

If you look at any population graph, there is always a carrying capacity, an asymptote that represents the line the population will always return to when it crosses over. Let us break it down. Let us talk rabbits.

Spring sees a huge spike in the cotton-tailed population, but the environment they are in can’t sustain such rapid growth. There are only so many holes to live in and so much grass to eat, and with the introduction of predators the population is forced back to a stable carrying capacity.

Clubs can be seen to operate the same way. There are only so many places we can comfortably congregate in, only so many days of the week, only so many times.

We only have four days in our club-week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday  (Friday only sometimes, for those leaders who are daring and believe in their club members’ loyalty). There is only a limited number of meeting places, too. For large clubs, a classroom does not cut it, and there are not many community spaces focused enough for the agenda of a club.

But what kills off clubs the fastest are the predators. Sports games, night classes, and the relentless struggles of stressed-out, overloaded students kill club attendance like the plague. No one is going to tell their teacher they could not study because they had to go to Badminton Club; no coach is going to take Wednesday night Improv as an excuse out of a varsity tournament.

So what happens to the club community? Is it possible that the number of clubs George school allows shoots the clubs themselves in the foot, stretching the student body too thin to keep any one of them alive?

There have been attempts to curb the club population. A few years ago, Student Council had proposals up for different kinds of clubs, downgrading some to interest groups and raising the prestige of others. There was outrage, there was apathy, and ultimately the plan fell through. As of now, with all of the things George School demands of students, club participation is the first sacrifice.

Our club population will forever fluctuate, you can tell by looking through past yearbooks. Take a look at the Club Fair week one, and then at the Community News postings by the last month of the year, and you can see the decimation. Is there a way to build a healthier club system that will get approval of Student Council members?

Until something in the culture of clubs changes, it does not seem likely that we will have any more long term clubs, or any fewer short-term start up clubs. The constraints of George School keep our outside gatherings at a steady carrying capacity. Living the life of a struggling club’s leader is heartbreaking. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that the behemoth clubs of 30+ attendees could ever fail.

In the long run, far longer than any of our matriculation here, clubs will maintain themselves according to the student body’s interests.

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Filed under A Day in the Life, Student Work, Students, The Curious George

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