One of the things that Cal is known for is its vibrant student community and the school spirit that its students have. The number of students tabling and handing out fliers every morning on Sproul speaks for itself, not to mention the protests that break out every now and then. Although I sometimes intentionally avoid eye contact with these desperate Sproulers, I noticed that a sense of school spirit was already ingrained in me when I went to Stanford to watch the Big Game last semester. And when I visited UCSD for the first time last summer? Man, they really deserve to be called “UC Socially Dead.”
When I arrived at Cal, I was excited to actually commit to organizations that support what I love and care about. During Welcome Week and the entire first two weeks of school during my freshman year, I personally visited every table (no kidding) that seemed even vaguely interesting and talked to people about their organizations.
I’m a sophomore now, going on junior, and I still walk through Sproul, looking around, in hope of finding an interesting organization to join. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m one of those people who don’t really like to do anything. I love people and what people can do, and I certainly do believe that people can make a difference. You’d probably recommend organizations that support causes — social justice, LGBT, human rights, animal rights and so on. But honestly, I have yet to find an organization that has managed to make a huge impact. Most of what they do is set up panels and invite guest speakers to “raise awareness” and maybe host some fundraisers. Same goes for a lot of business-themed organizations I’ve seen on Sproul. Lots of guest speakers from some “famous” company, talking about the same thing (“You should reach out and make connections and grab all the opportunities that fall on your plate”) to the same people (members of the organization and some pre-business majors). I’ve also seen some student visitors who came for the food or to “sign in” their names in support of their friends. Seriously? Oftentimes I see a bunch of students walk in and walk out before the event even kicks off.
Maybe it’s just me — maybe I’m just not the type of person to sit through panels and talks. So I went ahead and checked out some real, hands-on service organizations that usually go to Berkeley, Oakland and other cities outside the campus to serve the children, the poor, the old, the disabled. But I was blown away by all the pre-meds, a lot of whom did not understand these people they were serving or the pain these people were going through. Evidently, they were only there to write something down on their applications to med school.
And then there are social clubs. A lot of culture-themed organizations also belong in this category, because a lot of them don’t even bother with the “raising cultural awareness” excuse anymore. Social clubs put up a few events throughout the semester, but I have no idea why they’re doing it. Meet people, play games and have fun — can’t you do that in your own free time with your friends?
During my search for a student organization that supports what I value, that actually does something in all genuineness, I was discouraged that more than half of the student organizations I see on Sproul did not meet this standard that I’ve always considered a foundational basis for any organization. There were certainly some I found that were, by my definition, legit — culture-themed organizations that actually continue to raise cultural awareness through semesterly performances, service organizations that show progress in their impact on children’s education, design organizations that market to businesses off campus and engineering organizations that come up with a cool gadget every semester. But this was quite a narrow range to choose from.
It’s almost depressing to realize how much students are driven by resume-building. Obviously, I have neither a reason nor the right to judge these student organizations for doing what they do. But it seems that most of the passion of the hippie days Berkeley is known for has faded away to be replaced by “real-world” concerns and apathy. While I would attribute this to the increasing influence of capitalism over this society as a whole, to growing competition and emphasis on finding a decent job, one side of me still hopes that Cal, as the nation’s best public university, would step it up and dare to be different. With that said, I would like to challenge the officers of the campus student organizations for the coming semester to lead their organizations to their fullest potential, to set goals worth achieving, to even attempt to make an impact on the greater society that surrounds us. Hey, I want to be able to walk on Sproul, stop at a random table and find students who genuinely love and care about what they do and the organization they are supporting.