Activist & service orgs deserve recognition and support

by Marilyn Willmoth / Beacon Correspondent • February 14, 2013

Last week Emerson’s Greek Life organizations (recognized fraternities and sororities that can easily access classrooms in the Walker building) requested Greek-only meeting space. While students worry about rooms for these networking organizations, many activist and service organizations struggle to receive the recognition they deserve, which negatively impacts their funding and options for on campus space.

One cannot deny the importance of activist and service organizations. We students are assuming our roles as American citizens. We (hopefully) just voted in a presidential election, many of us for the first time. Activist and service groups educate the student body on issues that should be considered when they vote. They also encourage undergraduates to take a more active role by writing letters or rallying, actions that more directly contribute to policy change. Service organizations provide us with an opportunity to help those less fortunate than us. Emerson students, being privileged enough to attend college, should participate in activism or service to help those less fortunate. The school should support this effort to the same degree that it supports self-serving groups on campus, such as Greek Life.

Each fall, non-recognized campus organizations apply to the Organization Recognition Review Board (ORRB) recognition, which allows them to access meeting space outside of the Campus Center, promote at the organization fair, receive funds from student activities fees, and other benefits. The recognition process requires some information from the organization and participating in a hearing with the ORRB comprised of the Student Government Association vice president and a student representative from each class. Dean of students, Ronald Ludman and associate dean of students, Sharon Duffy,  also play a role in decision-making, but weren’t present at the hearing.

In 2010,  Emerson Reform (an unrecognized group on campus that works to educate students on drug policy and the issues surrounding it) applied for recognition. The reasons for our rejection were our affiliation with a national organization (Students for Sensible Drug Policy) and our need to have a stronger presence on campus. Tau Zaman, who was the SGA vice president and head of the ORRB at the time, relayed this explanation to us. It is inconsistent that Zaman, a member of Phi Alpha Tau, also supports Greek organizations (some of them affiliated with national organizations) that are inherently exclusive. Each year, talented and qualified students are rejected by Greek organizations, a practice that hinders their abilities to contribute to the Emerson community.

Last fall, Emerson Reform reapplied for recognition and was rejected again for being “a single-issue group.” The ORRB’s reasoning is not only misinformed, but also inconsistent, as some recognized organizations, such as Emerson Feminists and Earth Emerson, could also be considered “single-issue.” In our hearing, we also expressed concern about students who fear association with our group. Our repeated rejections from the ORRB have led some students to worry about disciplinary action for participating in Reform. While Reform members know this is a misconception, the ORRB and administration have made no effort to clear up this fallacy.

The ORRB treats activist and service organizations as a financial burden, yet readily grants recognition and support to magazines, comedy groups, and Greek organizations (another magazine and comedy troupe received recognition this year). Why are Greek organizations, formed primarily to benefit their exclusive membership, allowed more leniencies and given more support from the ORRB than organizations that perform service or increase civic engagement and political discourse?

I am disappointed in the administration for not being fully supportive of activist and service organizations. By restricting our organizations’ access to facilities, funding and promotion, the ORRB is inhibiting our potentials to achieve our missions. To contribute to significant change, activist and service organizations require inclusion and mass participation. I know that Greek organizations perform some service projects, but their exclusive nature limits their ability to affect significant change. Therefore, one can conclude that their primary purpose is to facilitate networking. Do organizations with such clear professional benefits need ORRB recognition to thrive?

The ORRB uses inconsistent reasoning in granting and denying recognition to student organizations. Unfortunately, these inconsistencies benefit exclusive and self-serving organizations, while some service and activist organizations follow all of ORRB’s recommendations and are still rejected. Emerson’s administration has a responsibility to support these organizations and encourage participation in our democracy. As privileged students, we should value groups that work to create necessary social change, rather than focus primarily on networking opportunities that only benefit ourselves.