Friday, March 23, 2012

Pressure to Join Exclusive Groups

When I was in fourth grade, I sent in an idea to a TV show and was a little disappointed when  it didn't get picked. I had assumed they used every idea they received - since this show put so much emphasis on sending in ideas, it seemed like they were desperate for submissions. My friends thought the same thing, and were surprised to learn that not every submission was used. I wasn't really upset about not getting on the show, and I understand now that a TV show would receive many more submissions than they need. But this example reentered my mind recently, as I've seen similar scenarios in real life. I've seen students who only have room for 2 or 3 people in their group yelling at activities fairs or from their table at the student union, stopping every person who passes and persuading them to sign up, turning down every reason that a person gives for not wanting to join until they either walk away or sign with no intention of showing up. This behavior is wrong because it puts pressure on people, but it's also the kind of behavior that would make you think a group was desperate for new members, when if they didn't push as hard, if they advertised but let people come on their own rather than chasing them down, then maybe they wouldn't have to turn so many people away when they have limited space.

College dance club - not the ABC group.
When I was in college, there was a singing and dancing group that I really wanted to join. Let's call the group ABC. Almost every semester, I was competing with 15-20 people for 3-4 spots. The number of spots available had to do with how many people had either graduated or left ABC, so it changed every semester. When I got to be a junior, I heard that the following year, ABC would have 10 spots open. I was so excited! With 15-20 people competing for 10 spots, I would have a better chance of getting in than I ever had before!

Well, things didn't work out that way. See, ABC is one of those groups that tries to convince a lot of people to join, but normally that was only at the activities fair at the beginning of the school year. That was where those 15-20 people came from. But this year, because there were more spots open, ABC put more emphasis on getting people to join. We did a musical in first two weeks of the semester where anyone could be in the chorus.  A lot of the students in charge of ABC were also involved in directing this musical, and spent the entire two weeks promoting the group. A lot of students were iffy about it, not sure if they had the time commitment, but when the list got passed around, everyone decided that they might as well sign up. By the end of the play, there were 60 students competing for 10 spots. Needless to say, I didn't make it. But really upset me is that I was competing against people who weren't as interested in the group as I was.  I can understand missing the table at the activities fair, but there were upperclassman who knew very well that the group existed but never sought it out on their own. There were people who probably wouldn't have signed up if the list wasn't being passed around in front of everyone, if the ABC leaders had just spoken once about the group and left the signup list in one place, so it was something you had to do on your own. If I had been running ABC, I would have felt bad about having limited space when so many people wanted to join. I would have been thrilled at the opportunity to accept a higher percentage of everyone who auditioned. But instead, ABC made sure they could be just as exclusive as they had always been.

I'm very much against putting pressure on people to join things, but I think it's worse to put on that pressure when you don't have enough room for everyone.  I can understand if you really, really need someone to join, like if you need to cast someone for a particular role in a play or else you can't do the play, but most groups like ABC can still function just fine with fewer people. In addition to pressuring people into doing something that they may not want to do, you're reducing the chances of people who really want to do the activity getting in. If you have limited space, why not calm down a bit: advertise and make your group known, but let people come to you.  By doing so, you can both reduce peer pressure and give everyone who is really interested in your group a better chance of getting in.

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