Acting beyond self-service

by Beacon Staff • December 5, 2007

Emerson College's Organizational Fair, held each September for the benefit of freshmen and transfer students, presents a plethora of to-be-opened doors to the student body.

For a small school like Emerson, the number of organizations welcoming students with open arms is impressive.,Loud music. Free candy. Sign-up sheets and exciting opportunities galore.

Emerson College's Organizational Fair, held each September for the benefit of freshmen and transfer students, presents a plethora of to-be-opened doors to the student body.

For a small school like Emerson, the number of organizations welcoming students with open arms is impressive.

However, many students will sign up for a few groups, furtively grab a complementary Snickers or water bottle and duck out of the room. More often than not, it is their first and last contact with these organizations.

Earth Emerson, Emerson Peace and Social Justice, Imagine and other student groups with a focus on volunteering and service learning begin their years with e-mail lists packed with a small army of names.

When first meetings are held, the room is filled with more students than chairs. But core members of these groups know not to be too optimistic; many of these students will not stick around.

Melissa Gittelman, a junior writing, literature and publishing major and president of Imagine, a campus community service organization, said her group has repeatedly suffered from this false interest.

"At the organizational fair every year students sign their names on our list to get involved with volunteering, and then our first meeting has maybe four members and then slowly dwindles to the point where the last few meetings have included just me [and my co-president]," she said.

Once the freshness of freshman year wears away, students slip into their craft, determinedly honing a skill into a career.

This career-mindedness does not mean students cannot sacrifice a few hours each week to stay involved.

Sasha Brown, a junior organizational and political communication major and co-president of EPSJ, said Emerson students are at an advantage because of their wide array of talents and majors.

"Yet, for the function of social activism, community service and social issues, we do not effectively utilize the tools and talents at our disposal," she said. "More communication is needed between the arts and advocacy."

Collegians spend appreciable time discussing the people in the world who need to be helped and about delivering the brand of politics that would bring about change.

But talk is cheap; most fail to take action.

"I've organized numerous events and volunteer trips and watched as the same four or five faces show up each time," Gittelman said.

Emerson advocacy groups are constantly trying to get students to participate or even just stop and listen long enough to get their message across. Most of the time their pitch is aimed at Emersonians' stomachs: the groups will often hold events with free food, like Earth Emerson's screening of An Inconvenient Truth.

The problem is that global warming and pizza are irrelevant to one another. Group members can only hope that between bites, the students picked up on the advocacy message the event was meant to promote.

Emerson students are a valuable part of the Boston community, and hopefully, the next time students complain about something wrong with Emerson, Boston or even the world, they will take action, not just gripe about it.

Maybe then, the free food won't be all that matters.