One Wednesday night in the spring of 2012, about 20 students gathered in the lobby of the Little Building for a decisive meeting about the future of an organization they all cared about.
A poster told passersby why Students for Sensible Drug Policy had to assemble there — because their organization wasn’t recognized by the Student Government Association, and therefore had difficulty booking a meeting space.
After this gathering, the group became Emerson Reform to revitalize its members’ hopes for recognition.
Emily Abikheirs, a junior visual and media arts major and the current vice president of Emerson Reform, said the group was founded in 2009 under the name Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a national and international nonprofit focused on reforming drug law. The fall of 2010 was the first year the group applied for SGA recognition and was denied.
“They told us we need to co-host more events, and get out of the national chapter,” said Abikheirs. “We didn’t want to have drugs in the name, because we felt that stigmatized us.” They hoped the name Emerson Reform would brand its identity within the Emerson community, and away from the national nonprofit.
Three years later, the group, which hosts events on drug education and policy and comprises 15 active members, is once again among the hopefuls seeking for recognition. On Nov. 1, 10 student groups submitted application packets to the SGA for organization recognition, according to Kassandra King, vice president of SGA. King heads the Organization Recognition and Review Board, which reviews and makes recommendations to recognize proposed student groups.
The recognition process requires student groups to have a clear mission, a sound financial plan, a constitution, and to be different from existing groups, among other requirements.
SGA monitors and allocates funds to student organizations. This money is pooled from the student service fee, which is part of undergraduate tuition. Currently, the undergraduate student fee is $329 per semester, or $303 for students who enrolled prior to the fall of 2011. According to Ronald Ludman, dean of students, $85 of the fee per student each semester is allocated to SGA to support student organizations and SGA-related programs.
The potential benefits of recognition include funding, access to campus meeting spaces, participation in the Organization Fair, and a listing on the Emerson website and in student handbook. Lack of suitable meeting space is a common problem that student groups without SGA recognition encounter.
Marilyn Willmoth, president of Emerson Reform, said that aside from funding, her organization struggles the most with the lack of meeting space.
“If we want to get a larger room, we have to go through a larger organization,” said the senior political communication major. “But you have to burden them to co-host an event they might not be as passionate about it as we are.”
Student groups that haven’t been granted recognition, and thus can’t have funds for their operations, usually fundraise through Facebook campaigns and websites like kickstarter.com and gofunding.com.
If there’s a will there’s a way
Without recognition, groups can’t participate in the Organization Fair, the most popular way for campus groups to recruit members and for students to become involved. Still, unrecognized groups find a way to take part.
“Typically, we stand outside of [Piano Row] during the Org Fair and hand out flyers,” said Willmoth, adding that this method hasn’t proven effective for the group.
The Emerson Lions Spirit Squad, which also does not have SGA recognition, has resorted to a similar way of taking part in the Org Fair, despite not being able to have a table there.
“We would go to the Org Fair with clip boards with our uniforms,” said Noelle St. Louis, co-captain of the spirit squad. “And gotten kicked out.”
Yet, the cheerleading group has tried to achieve institutional support through other means.
The Emerson Lions Spirit Squad has been around since 2009 and applied for SGA recognition once in 2011, according to St. Louis. They were denied, she said, and told that if the group hoped to be recognized, they would have to eliminate certain parts of their performances because of insurance liability issues.
“If we would have accepted, they would have stripped us of stunting and tumbling, which is an essential part of cheerleading,” said St. Louis, a junior marketing communication major.
Since then, the group has tried to gather support from the athletics department. In the spring of 2013, the department got the squad uniforms and hair bands, and the following fall, allocated a table for them at the Organization Fair.
St. Louis said this was possible thanks to the cooperation of Stanford Nance, interim athletics director. Nance also granted approval for them to cheer at home games for the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The squad also participates in Emerson Dance Company Showcase, and last year performed at the EVVY awards.
To raise money for uniforms, pom poms, training mats, and a choreographer, St. Louis said this year, members paid a mandatory $30 to join the team. They also run a fundraising campaign through Facebook. But the squad struggles to find adequate space where its 13 members can practice.
“We try to get space in Paramount, but a lot of times we are squeezed into a small place,” St. Louis said.
When the weather permits, the spirit squad uses Boston Common to rehearse, said St. Louis.
“We shouldn’t be downplayed when our competitors have the support of a cheering squad,” said St. Louis, who hopes that her team of cheerleaders can support varsity teams during athletic events in the future.
“I’d like for us to be recognized. It’s cheering, we are promoting Emerson and school spirit,” she said.
Besides financial support, an added benefit of recognition, according to the SGA, is exposure — being listed in the undergraduate student handbook, college catalogue, college website, and other campus publications.
Celina Colby, editor-in-chief of Atlas Magazine, said the biannual publication was motivated to apply for recognition in both the fall of 2011 and 2012 for the financial support and the presence in college’s website and publications.
“We could be in the student handbook, be in the Org Fair, and have more visibility with the student body,” said the junior writing, literature, and publishing major. Atlas Magazine was denied recognition in the spring of 2012, but Colby said that while it was stressful, this motivated the group to develop publication separate from other campus magazines.
That May, Atlas published 250 copies of its first print issue, which was made possible through fundraising about $2,000 through kickstarter.com, said Colby. The organization later re-applied in the fall of 2012, with continuing efforts to raise funds through friends and family of the staff.
“We fleshed out more of our mission and how we were gonna make ourselves different from other magazines,” Colby said. Atlas Magazine was recognized by the SGA in the Spring of 2013, and the publication used SGA funds to print 500 copies of its May issue.
According to the Emerson website, there are seven Greek life organizations; six multicultural clubs; 19 performance groups; six political, service, and advocacy groups; nine professionally affiliated chapters; three programing and special events groups; 14 print and publishing organizations; three spiritual clubs; seven student media organizations; and eight visual and media arts production clubs.
“You can’t fundraise on campus, which is the hard part,” said Ashley Alongi, editor-in-chief of Five Cents Sound, a music magazine founded a year ago which is applying for SGA recognition this year.
Five Cents Sound printed 100 copies of its first issue this September thanks to $1,200 that its members raised through indiegogo.com, another site for crowdfunding. Social media and word of mouth are the methods members of the magazine employ to gather money.
“It’s stressful because you don’t want to bug people. You kind of just feel that you are begging people,” said Alongi, a senior writing, literature, and publishing major. “It’d be nice not to do that again.”