How to Fix the Club Involvement Problem

The problem of student involvement within clubs lies within how these ‘student-led’ clubs are organised: their underlying structure excludes every student not directly involved in club leadership.

Student-led clubs here at NYU Shanghai all face a common problem: the lack of student involvement. Despite the initial wave of enrollment in student clubs following the semester’s involvement fair, clubs typically struggle with ensuring students participate in every meeting, maintaining attendance numbers throughout every week, and acquiring new club leaders every year. Unsurprisingly, whenever we talk about involvement issues that plague student-led clubs, we tend to say that these issues stem from how little free time we receive because of our classes or how most students study away during their junior year. However, by just looking at these two potential causes, we inevitably ignore the most problematic and significant reason clubs lack student involvement: the current way ‘student-led’ clubs are organised.

Today, student-led clubs are usually organised in the following way: at least four students start a club, where two (2) of the members must have their home campus in NYU Shanghai; and in order to maintain club status, clubs need ten (10) members who are all NYU Shanghai students (per the NYU Shanghai website concerning clubs)

  As a result, clubs must maintain membership numbers in order to remain official NYU Shanghai clubs and thus continue to receive funding, recognition from the school, and space to host activities: to continue to exist. Leaders across all clubs recognise this necessity, so they all try to keep member attendance high, even at the cost of member participation or the ability to enlist capable leadership for the future. Club leadership, typically limited to a small handful of students such as club president and treasurer, are responsible for the continued existence of the club, whereas the members have no direct stake or structural involvement within the club. This structurally-induced apathy leads to a lack of student involvement outside of direct leadership. The problem of student involvement within clubs lies within how these ‘student-led’ clubs are organised: their underlying structure excludes every student not directly involved in club leadership.

Therefore, the only way to fix the involvement problem is to involve all student club members in the leadership process, responsibilities, and decisions. Clubs can accomplish this solution by delegating traditionally leadership-exclusive responsibilities across all club members, thereby involving them in the decision-making process within the club. All members could be able to, say, decide how to distribute funding and schedule activities: rotating club positions or universal responsibilities will naturally increase student involvement by directly involving students in processes essential to the survival of student clubs. Though unexplored and undiscussed, alternative methods to club leadership can truly make ‘student-led’ clubs actually be led by all students.

In addition, this alternative solution also takes students’ schedules into consideration and semesters when they study abroad. By rotating positions and delegating responsibilities across club members, students can better accommodate each other’s schedules in regards to their workload from classes and other commitments. Club leaders will no longer need to worry about training or voting for individual members to lead the club next year. Instead, universal positions and responsibilities are spontaneously delegated and assigned by club members themselves according to the club’s needs: clubs will be able to survive and perform leadership abilities functions without particular students carrying on the ‘legacy’ or responsibilities of the club through delegation.

While the idea of alternative leadership still needs to be further discussed across clubs here at NYU Shanghai, one point remains: the fundamental structure of how clubs are organised lends them to have a lack of student involvement. We cannot change how the school board works or how rigorous our classes are, but we can change how students collectively organise themselves within these clubs. An alternative solution is necessary to fix the issue of student involvement as it currently stands.

This article was written by Matthew Ballou. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Mei Wu

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