The Concerning Dynamics of Club Culture

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With strict guidelines applied for forming new clubs and the competitive nature of the already established clubs, there is a clear barrier for students to explore different hobbies and interests. 

Ella Zhang, class of 2025, tried to start a natural science club called Entropreneur with three other students. “We just wanted it to be our harbor among all the art and finance stuff so that we have our little place to do some experiments, to find out the beauty of the Earth and of nature,” she said. While “there are already clubs about math and about computer science” she said no clubs catered to the interests of her and several of her peers. 

After submitting an application for Entropreneur, Ella and the other founding members were denied because they were told that “based on [NYU Shanghai’s] experiences, all of the previous science clubs have failed.” In addition, they were told they were asking too much from the University for it to be able to support them. 

Ella suggested that the school should “focus a little more on how to help clubs fit their standards.” She said that she and the other founders would’ve been flexible with modifying aspects of their proposed club, but were not given an opportunity to do so before the school rejected their proposal. All she asks is that the school “communicate with us before just turning everything down.” 

Ella also believes that a large reason for the failure of previous science clubs is that many students “don’t really want to join something that cannot really contribute to their future applications or their future CVs.” She believes the highly competitive environment of NYU Shanghai limits students from being able to freely explore their own interests. 

Two of NYU Shanghai’s most popular and most successful clubs are the business-based organizations TAMID and UBA. Students report positive experiences with them, but much of their engagement comes from members seeking ways to enhance their resumes rather than looking for an outlet to indulge in their passion. 

Co-President of TAMID, Marian Chen, class of 2024, said its sole purpose was to “help students sort of develop a business sense and [get] more education through connections with Israel, the US, and China.” Between TAMID and UBA, Marian said that even though “I wouldn’t really say that it’s directly competitive, it can sometimes feel a little competitive.” 

She said she felt pressure on joining NYU Shanghai “to join clubs that could progress my professional career.” She has enjoyed her time in TAMID, but recognized “it was less that I was doing it in my own leisure time.” Marian has experience with other clubs at NYU Shanghai, such as the pen pals club, but noticed far less engagement in them from the student body due to a combination of lack of promotion and lack of willingness for students to join. 

Marian feels that NYU Shanghai lacks clubs that cater to everyone’s interests. “I don’t think there are a sufficient amount of clubs offered,” she said. She added that because of the intensive application process and guidelines and what she’d heard, “it’s really, really hard to start a club here.” Because NYU Shanghai is notorious for being so selective in approving new clubs, students feel discouraged to even go through the application process due to fear of ultimate rejection. 

Another student, Emily Wei, class of 2024, recently started a new visual arts club with three other students. Their mission is to create “a community for people who enjoy art to just come and hangout and do art together.” Emily said that, in general, the club scene at NYU Shanghai is “really inclusive,” but “there could be more [clubs] if people were actually willing to create them and take part in them.” Similar to Ella, Emily has noticed that the strong priority on future job applications is deterring students from participating in clubs at NYU Shanghai. 

Emily said there is also a strong lack of promotion for some of the more casual clubs, resulting in students simply not being aware of their existence. Most clubs lack the same level of advertising that the more popular ones receive. On top of that, due to the situation with Covid and the inability of a sizable portion of the student body to return to Shanghai, “there’s a lot of limitations to our clubs at this moment.” Following the recent lockdown in Shanghai, the visual arts club has been unable to hold any proper meetings. Because the club is designed to be a hands-on community experience, Emily and the other founders have few options to hold meetings right now. 

Yasmin Pang, class of 2024 and Director of Student Organizations, said in her position in student government, she “approves new club requests and also club revival.” More specifically, she “helps coordinate clubs, helps club leaders with whatever they need and manages budget requests.” Yasmin said that when reviewing club proposals, “there’s a lot of factors that we take into consideration, and it’s honestly a case by case basis.” 

She said that in her experience “most [club applications] do end up getting denied, but we do already offer quite a few clubs.” The most common reason for clubs getting denied is due to the proposed club being too similar to an already existing club. She said that oftentimes in an application, a club will either coincide with a club that already exists, or with a club that was offered in previous years and was unsuccessful. 

With the small size of the student body, NYU Shanghai is undoubtedly limited to the resources it can offer clubs. That being said, many students feel that the clubs offered are not sufficient enough to cater to everyone’s interests. The strict requirements for starting new clubs and the high denial rate make it extremely difficult for students to form new communities of people with similar interests. 

On top of the difficulty in creating new clubs, there is a distinct contrast between the more academic focused clubs and leisure clubs. The highly competitive nature of NYU Shanghai’s academics translates to the club scene as well. There are exciting opportunities for business students to pursue through clubs, but they are extremely limited for students of other majors and interests. 

Although the University tries to be inclusive of all students in the clubs that are offered, there seems to be great room for improvement. NYU Shanghai’s goal of providing equal opportunities for students of all identities and interests starts with actively listening to the student body and being both flexible and encouraging of the formation of new clubs, as well as providing ample support to the already existing clubs.

Author: Kinsey Martindale

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