Every year, club leaders anticipate the day the fall activities fair rolls around. Last semester, on Friday, Sept. 6, clubs gathered in the Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex as a majority of first-year students rolled into the gymnasium to find their niche at Fairfield University.
Organizations like the Movie Makers club got a ton of signatures from different students. However, after the first club meeting rolled around, club attendance would only decline.
“Our first meeting we ever had, we had like 46 people come in, but as the weeks went by it dwindled from 20 to 16 to four,” said the vice president of Movie Makers club, Robert Long ‘20.
Long, who is also the president of Your Mom Does Improv, the improv club here on campus, is one of many club leaders who deals with the fluctuation of club attendance at Fairfield; specifically, a decline in attendance.
For Long and the members of Your Mom Does Improv, he noted how the club started off with about six or seven members at the beginning of the semester and has since decreased to about four members.
“It’s always been a relatively low attendance,” said Long, who has been a part of the club since his first year. “It’s always like the same group of people. Since my freshman year it was like two seniors and then a group of five or six sophomores. That group stayed, tagged their friends and then they all left.”
Long notes how this lack of attendance is most likely due to conflicting schedules, school work and the content of the club itself.
“[Improv] is a lot of performance and breaking out of your comfort zone, I’ve talked to a lot of people before that say they’re bad at public speaking or they’re nervous,” he said. “It’s tough to sell. Unless you’re looking out for it, you’re not interested in it.”
Junior Stephanie Brij-Raj, the president of the Society of Women Engineers Club, similarly notes how lack of attendance to her club can be seen in regards to the subject of the club and scheduling conflicts.
“I think this could be due to the fact that we target such a specific group of people,” Brij-Raj stated via email. “It is also difficult to find a meeting time that works best for everyone, with labs and busy schedules. This semester, however, we have seen a spike in attendance, which I think could be due to choosing a better meeting time.”
Senior Ashley Halmans, the previous vice president of Baja, a project-based engineering club, and the current senior advisor of Society of Women Engineers, echoed this, but also mentioned how the biggest problem for engineering clubs on campus is with first-year recruitment.
“Everything is project orientated so [first-years] don’t feel like they have taken the [necessary] classes yet,” said Halmans, “or they feel like everyone knows everybody because our school is so small, so there is a lot of, what they perceive, as barriers.”
Halmans also adds how first-years don’t always want to engage with their major. “They don’t want to do anything outside of class,” she said. “They’re literally here for just their degree and making some friends, and engineering is not where they want to make those.”
The subject of a club is also what draws in a lot of members. Marketing Club is one of these clubs that’s been fortunate to have high attendance at their events. Marketing Club had originally been a club that solely hosted large events rather than general weekly meetings.
Senior Mikayla Goria, the president of Marketing Club, stated via email that this high attendance to events is, “attributed to the fact that it is a large professional club and students want to utilize our events for networking opportunities. [The Dolan School of Business] has been very supportive in helping to market our events, and our club advisor, John Neal, promotes the events to his students. However, until this semester, our club never had general assembly meetings, only large events. We hosted our first ever general assembly meeting this past week and had very low attendance.”
Goria mentioned how Marketing Club might have not promoted their first general assembly meeting as aggressively as they could have, however, Goria is confident that they can improve the numbers of the next couple of meetings.
Some clubs, with average attendance, contribute to this fluctuation solely because of circumstances. Senior Shawn Hall, the president of Black Student Union, noted via email how BSU’s attendance is intermediate based on who is passionate about the club’s cause and what might be happening over the course of the semester.
“We have consistent members, but over the course of the semester attendance tends [to] fluctuate,” he said. “If [we aren’t] struggl[ing] to keep members we struggle to maintain them coming to meetings due to just certain academic things that arise throughout the semester.”
Junior Nathan Schmidt, the Editor-in-Chief of Stagnation, Fairfield University’s satirical news outlet, added similarly via email that despite a low attendance, the members that join stay for the long haul.
“The main two issues that sometimes keep long-time members from attending are heavy academic workloads and conflicting obligations with other clubs,” he said.
In an email from a representative from the Council of Student Organizations, in the last two years, 26 organizations have either been classified as inactive or dissolved. In the 2018-2019 academic year, 21 clubs in total became inactive or dissolved, while in the current 2019-2020 academic year, there were five clubs.
According to the Fairfield University student handbook, inactive clubs are clubs that “do not renew their Life@Fairfield portal within the first 4 weeks of the beginning of the fall or spring semester.” Meanwhile, dissolved clubs are organizations that remain inactive “for greater than one full academic year” and will no longer be recognized by the university.
In the last two years, 13 clubs out of the 26 organizations have been considered inactive while the other 13 are considered dissolved under the university’s definition. Others have formed into new organizations or are recognized elsewhere under the university like Management Club, which is under the control of DSB, and Club Swim, which has moved to be under control of the RecPlex.
Despite an increase in inactive and dissolved clubs, there has been an additional 21 new clubs that have been created on campus. During the 2018-2019 school year, there were five new clubs created, while in the current academic year the university has recognized 16 new active clubs.
The Council of Student Organizations, or COSO, is the board within the Fairfield University Student Association that is responsible for the advocating and managing of recognized student-run clubs and organizations on campus. COSO is essentially the bridge between club leaders and the university and is there to be a resource for clubs.
A source from Club Swim, who has preferred to remain anonymous, stated via email that “COSO has made it very difficult as a board member [to make the club grow].”
The anonymous source states that Club Swim had been moved from student engagement to recreation for liability reasons once the club began to attend meets. The source noted how this move has been difficult for the club, and “having to go to meetings then getting random emails that we were not considered a club under a part of the university we weren’t a part of was very annoying.”
The now self-funded club is not considered to be a part of the university, which means they must collect dues from club members. The anonymous source mentioned how, despite a fairly strong attendance, “[dues have] made people stray away because of the cost.”
Funding is a big factor for clubs that are fighting to stay afloat. This is something that COSO is primarily responsible for and is also pinpointed as a weakness of the organization by some club leaders.
“I believe that COSO struggles with supporting clubs financially,” Hall said via email.
Schmidt echoed this statement as well via email, saying, “COSO’s weakness is money. There’s no way around it. COSO has a finite budget and a large, growing number of clubs to finance.”
Schmidt further expanded on the fact that the clubs that can self-finance through fundraising are already well-established and successful on campus, but for the clubs that might not have a popular standing yet, it can be rather difficult.
“If I ran a fundraiser for Stagnation, it would almost certainly turn out a net loss,” Schmidt said. “I think the issue of COSO’s budget size is more for FUSA as a whole to deal with, but I’m pretty sure their total budget right now is comparable to one single student’s annual tuition.”
This is not the case for everyone. Goria stated via email that, “the financial support [from COSO] has been extremely beneficial, as our club is large and we need funding to pay to reserve rooms large enough to accommodate our numbers.”
In regards to this claim that there is not enough funding, a representative from COSO commented via email that while they want to encourage students to form any club they are passionate about, they are constantly approving new clubs because they don’t want to turn away any passionate students.
“Because our budget is limited, we have encouraged students to seek supplementary sources of funding such as fundraisers and club dues,” the COSO representative stated.
As to how this funding is allocated, the representative explained that there are, “multiple budget pools to accommodate club leaders in case they have any last minute ideas or aspirations. We know how busy club leaders are and we try to make this process as easy as possible.”
The first budget pool is earlier in the semester and has more funds available for allocation. This incentivizes clubs to plan out events at the beginning of the semester. Later in the semester there is a smaller budget pool which has fewer funds available.
COSO ultimately makes these decisions based on the requests they get, which are all very different and vary in amount. With that, COSO examines each one carefully, which causes them to base their decisions on factors like a clubs compliance standing, what the funds will be used for, club participation/enrollment, if a club has dues or club savings, previous allocations and if a club is able to receive funding from academic departments or other areas.
COSO receives a certain sum of money each academic year from a portion of the student general fee in a separate allocation from the FUSA budget. A COSO representative stated that, “this is to protect club funding and ensure its being put towards clubs rather than other student services additionally the FUSA President cannot allocate the COSO budget.”
This specific sum of money is then allowed to be allocated by COSO to clubs that request funds. According to COSO, they received “$60,000 this year to distribute to clubs over both semesters.” No club is allowed to receive more than 6 percent of the total allocation budget, and proposals that are over $1,000 have to be approved by the entire COSO board.
COSO also noted how their internal costs, such as the fall and spring activities fairs, were paid from the FUSA budget as to allow the full $60,000 to be allocated to clubs.
“While FUSA is coming under demand for more student services like a bigger name fall concert artist, more events, and more money for COSO allocations, our budget has remained the same,” the COSO representative said.
This year the general fee increased, but the increase did not go towards FUSA or club funding. COSO stated that, “last semester COSO received $59,733.39 in requests with only $30,000 to allocate. In just one semester the entire COSO budget for the year was requested. So far in this semester, just in the first budget pool COSO received $56,128.13 in requests.”
COSO has commented that if they wanted to fulfil every budget request, they would need to double their budget.
“This has been the case for years: in [fiscal year]17 $154,557.87 was requested, in FY18 $136,619.14 was requested, and in FY 19 $147,316.24 was requested,” COSO stated. “The University looks to FUSA and clubs to create an engaging student culture on campus. We need more resources to support our vibrant student life.”
Another factor along with financing that club leaders have mentioned as hindering in some way are the COSO Academies they must attend every semester. As of two years ago, these have been implemented as mandatory for club leaders to attend.
“I think the [COSO Academies] are incredibly redundant and should not require every club to go,” president of Accounting Club, Jack Dennis ‘22, stated via email.
“I think that COSO supports clubs through the COSO Academy which keeps clubs involved and up to date,” said Goria via email.
Marketing Club, like a few other clubs on campus, have something called a COSO representative, who attends all the COSO Academies and reports back the information. Goria notes how this has been a great asset to her club.
“[Our COSO representative] feels that the meetings are run well and they make themselves very available to answer questions,” Goria said. “[COSO has] been extremely supportive in helping us with room reservations, tech set up and catering for our events, and COSO/Student Engagement has walked me through the process each time. I don’t think the events would have run so smoothly if it wasn’t for their support.”
Halmans mentions how she likes COSO Academies, but thinks they are only helpful for first-time club leaders.
“I’m not [at a COSO Academy] to meet the 20 or 40 other club leaders. I’m there because you forced me to be here on a Sunday afternoon, when I had homework to do,” Halmans said. “[This is] to tell me something that could’ve easily been in an email and if I had more specific questions, I could’ve come to the COSO office, I could’ve emailed you. I think that’s things that need to be conveyed to advisors and that’s something COSO struggles with…a lot of what they spend their time on is things you don’t know or need to know, except for when I submit my budget. Not a lot of it is super helpful.”
Long echoed a concern that dealt with COSO Academies and the communication following them.
“Last year there was a big problem with communication when the academies are and if you miss an academy you get a strike,” he said. “And there was 1 or 2 days they forgot to send something out, so me and a bunch of my friends got a penalty for a meeting we didn’t realize we had. There’s office hours, it’s been tough to get to because of my work schedule, but they’re still there and they’ve helped out. That sense of abilities is tough on all corners, not just them.”
COSO stated that they find the COSO Academies very important because they “provide the necessary information to club leaders about finance, club development, marketing, and the new club process.”
For COSO, they find this as a way to convey any important policies and procedures, and to give club leaders an opportunity to ask any questions or remind them of their weekly office hours.
“We try to make ourselves as accessible to club leaders as we possibly can,” the COSO representative said. “In efforts to increase transparency and aid in club success, we have shared and gone over all our policies and developed a club guidebook that will be distributed at the next COSO academy.”
COSO also noted how they have changed their compliance system from last year, which has decreased the amount of COSO Academies required for the semester. “In our current compliance system, we have seen an increase and more consistent attendance compared to the attendance last year,” COSO said.
There are also things that club leaders think that COSO are helpful with, specifically concerning event marketing and their willingness to work with club leaders.
“Getting free flyers printed is very good,” Schmidt mentioned, “but the most helpful thing COSO has done for me was last spring, when they helped me learn to manage my club online.”
Brij-Raj also added via email how she likes COSO’s transparency and the way they operate. “For example, when we submit semester budgets, they are clear about the procedure and willing to work with us.”
Although, Brj-Raj mentions that one way COSO could increase this helpfulness is “to maybe have “liaisons” for different clubs– someone who focuses on academic clubs, someone who focuses on service-based clubs, etc. I think this would help us, as club leaders, get the support we need from someone who is more focused on what our clubs typically do.”
COSO stated that they offer service to clubs struggling with attendance by giving them advice on how to recruit and retain an active membership during COSO Academies, and also putting on the activities fair and helping out with marketing.
“We have a dedicated club marketer on the board who is available to design announcements and print flyers for free, and also has access to each class year’s Facebook group,” COSO stated via emailed. “We also have an existing club developer on the board who is always available to sit down with clubs and discuss strategies for maintaining club membership. COSO encourages clubs to meet with marketer and the existing club developer to brainstorm ways that COSO can be supportive of struggling clubs.”