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Dismal event turnout? Pay attendance forward

by Caroline Praderio / Columnist • November 14, 2012

It was 11:15 a.m. on Saturday in November 201115 minutes after the start time for the first fundraiser I’d ever planned at Emersonand I was alone. As the minutes continued to pass, my shame avalanched. The price was fair, and I’d marketed hard. Hundreds of students had been invited via Facebook, and I’d stapled fliers to every bulletin board within student sight. But there I was: eager, prepared, energized, and totally alone. What had gone wrong? 

Last fall, I was the fundraising chair for Emerson Urban Dance Theatre (EUDT), the student-run dance company that I now direct. That September, I had been newly elected to EUDT’s executive board, and I tackled my new role enthusiastically. Nary a syllabus had graced the inside of my backpack before my mind was churning with fundraiser ideas to help my financially-struggling organization. 

To start, I planned a series of $5 master classes taught by members of the company. I booked the Cabaret and the Multipurpose Room, recruited company dancers as teachers, promoted relentlessly, and printed sheets of tickets. The night before the first master class was scheduled, I even spent a treacherous hour standing at the paper cutter in the library, cutting individual tickets from the sheets and nearly losing a finger or two. 

Despite my efforts, the fundraiser for EUDT attracted about five students — most of whom I’d personally asked (read: badgered) to attend. I was stunned and disheartened.

A year later, I now know that the Deserted Fundraiser is a common scene at Emerson. Unless it’s the type of event that peddles shots for $1 and keg access for $5, I’ve found that fundraisers and events put on by student organizations are poorlyeven dismallyattended. But it shouldn’t take the promise of a party for us to support our peers’ extracurricular endeavors. We should actively open our schedules (and, when we can, our wallets) to ensure that Emerson’s student organizations will continue to enhance our community. 

Emerson College is an academic institution—but it’s not academics that keep us in meeting rooms and rehearsals until 11 o‘clock every night. This school is characterized by its thriving array of student-run organizations. For many of us, the members of our organization become family-away-from familyour companions as we navigate our undergraduate years. Because they mean so much to our personal and professional development, we make great sacrifices for the success of our student organizations.

But when it comes to supporting other organizationswhether by attending events, paying admission, or bothI think we fall a little short. Yes, we’re busy. Yes, every dollar matters to us. But remember that someone else’s dance company could be your Quidditch team, and yet another’s comedy troupe might be your literary magazine. 

And when we do give our time and money, the benefits are manifold. Receiving organizations are able to collect funds to complete ambitious projects or everyday functions. For EUDT, peer support has meant that, for the first time in seven years, we get to perform in a real theater. 

Giving students are also rewarded in this relationship. When we give, we get the satisfaction of knowing we’ve helped others realize their goals. We help writers see their names in print, we help singers get to the stage, and we help producers air shows on the Emerson Channel. More importantly, we’re supporting Emerson as a whole, ensuring the survival of groups that enrich our campus with publications, performances, and programmingall of which we get to enjoy.

Of course, the student leaders who plan these events and fundraisers also have responsibility in this exchange. Leaders of organizations must be cognizant of the event fatigue that can grip our student body. We’re all quick to dismiss the dozens of weekly Facebook invitations and pass by bulletin boards so cluttered with fliers they’re almost dizzying. Emerson’s official website lists 86 SGA-sponsored student organizations—a daunting number even before considering the many groups that exist independently from the college. It’s understandably difficult to stand out in this crowd. 

But ultimately, the richness of student life at Emerson depends upon student support. Without this support, too many fundraising chairs and events coordinators will find themselves the way I did: with weeks of preparation and nothing to show for it but an empty room (or, just as bad, a room with a few attendees and a lot of awkward silence). Faced with repeated discouragement, student leaders might lose motivation to create programming, lose funds, and possibly cease to exist. 

Every on-campus event is proof that somewhere near the corner of Boylston and Tremont, there’s a group of students working on great things. Let’s go to the open-mic night, place a bid at that date auction, or send that candy grambecause these are the fuel of Emerson’s unmatched student accomplishments.