Last week, Rachael Schmidt ’21 wrote a column arguing that clubs at Brown need to be inclusive. Schmidt argues that while clubs face logistical challenges in becoming more inclusive, they still have room to grow. But making clubs more inclusive isn’t as hard as Schmidt makes it out to be. She proposes some novel solutions; for example, service-based organizations with a limited number of shifts could have some students serve in the spring and some in the fall. This is an interesting idea — but the first step should be to look at what clubs are already doing to be more inclusive.
While Schmidt is right that many clubs are exclusive, a variety of clubs at Brown have found ways to allow as many students as possible to participate. There are three primary strategies that some clubs already implement to improve inclusivity. First, some clubs prioritize learning. Second, several clubs create different levels of commitment and skill. Finally, many clubs host open events and workshops. Exclusive clubs should learn from these groups, and we should encourage them to become more open.
The most inclusive clubs accept all applicants and prioritize learning. For example, the Brown Band provides free music lessons so anyone can join, whether or not they already know how to play an instrument. Similarly, anyone can join The Brown Daily Herald as a reporter after completing a training session. These clubs also strive to be financially inclusive: The Brown Band provides instruments to players, and The Herald has a financial assistance program to provide some aid so students can spend less time working to participate. While it takes some work to reach this level of inclusivity, it is incredibly rewarding for everyone involved. By accepting all applicants and lowering financial barriers, clubs can build more diverse communities.
That being said, accepting all applicants might not be a realistic option for all clubs, particularly for those based on competition or performance. One potential solution is to have different levels within one club. For example, Ultimate Frisbee has A and B teams, which create more opportunities for people to participate. Impulse Dance Company puts on a series of open workshops throughout the year; during the spring semester, students who attend all workshops then perform a dance during the spring show.
Finally, many clubs host public workshops and events. For example, I recently attended a workshop and performed in an open-mic night with the Rib of Brown. Almost all clubs would be able to host these kinds of events, but many never actually do so. For example, improv groups like Improvidence host open practices during the audition cycle, but stop after that. When I auditioned, I had a blast at these open practices, and I wish they continued them throughout the year.
While clubs may face logistical constraints in becoming more inclusive, it is by no means impossible, as evidenced by the large number of clubs that already work to be more inclusive. Knowing what’s possible, we should start holding clubs to higher standards.
Furthermore, the Undergraduate Finance Board should take inclusivity into account when determining funding levels. The UFB’s constitution states that “decisions of the UFB shall in all respects reflect the fact that the student activities monies do not belong to the UFB, but are held in trust for the student body.” As such, UFB funding should go to clubs that are as open to as large a portion of the student body as possible. Clubs which both are highly exclusive and receive a large amount of funding — like Brown Mock Trial — should face extra scrutiny.
At the end of the day, at a school known for its Open Curriculum, it’s time we expect our clubs to be more open as well.
Rebecca Aman ’20 can be reached at
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