The student activities organization always struck me, at least as a freshman, as the best reflection of what a college should do in welcoming newcomers into the community, finding your niche, etc. A friendly, smiling face telling you that you can; among the multitude of faces, find a group of similarly minded people is particularly enticing.
It’s so effective, in fact, that most freshmen, myself included, tend to go a bit overboard. You sign up for every group you can find even a tangential relationship with. You think, “I at least partially understand the rules of chess, so, perhaps that makes me an ‘enthusiast.’ I recycled once, albeit unintentionally, so how about the Student Environmental Action Coalition? And I know the capital of Wyoming, so, Quiz Bowl.”
You go around the activities fair collecting flyers as if they were candy, often accompanied by actual candy — “Isn’t that thoughtful?” you think — from the bowl placed at the front of nearly every table.
It’s not until you’re an upperclassman — responsible for running these sorts of stands — that you realize how manufactured the whole process is, motivated less by a spirit of welcoming than by a strange sort of lust for “new blood.” Freshmen are referred to using the vocabulary normally reserved for commodities.
Possibly in an effort to reverse this trend, I so readily volunteered this fall to man a booth at the activities fair. I got the basic lecture before being sent out, as if we were trapping deer: “Don’t scare them away with requirements,” they tell you. “Just conveniently skip over the $50 dues, we can bring that up later. Don’t mention that we drink, don’t want to scare them with alcohol. And whatever you do, don’t forget the candy.; that always lures them in.” They will tell you all this, not once considering how pedophilic the notion is.
Promptly at 7 p.m., the freshmen started coming in waves like sailors called to port. One girl sauntered up to our table. She looked us up and down with a steady, appraising stare, flipping absent-mindedly through one of the spread-out pamphlets.
“Hi. You can take one if you want,” I said, trying to start a conversation, trying to mimic the enthusiasm with which I was once greeted. She merely looks up, again with that steely glare, then tosses the pamphlet on the table and continues on her way without a word.
I felt dirty and used, as if I were a rejected hooker, standing alone on a deserted street corner.
“It’s all about the boobs,” a guy working the table next to ours later tells me. He holds up the magazine he’s hawking — a copy of the William and Mary Review with a nude woman spread across the cover. “It’s the only way we can get guys over here. And it works. They’re going like hotcakes.”
That’s the secret. You just stand there, all prettied-up, and do whatever you can to try and bring in the students. Some are calling out to every passerby. Some — those who’ve been around the block a few times — just throw out the candy and sit there, distracted and aloof. They know how this whole transaction works. They’ll just sit and file their nails until someone is interested.
Turns out I make a poor prostitute. With only a page and a half of e-mail addresses by the end of the night, my dream of becoming a hooker studies major was, obviously, crushed. I left the auditorium vowing to abandon the profession entirely. My days — or rather, day — of pimping student organizations was finally over.
That being said, if you’re looking for a good time this Monday night, sailor, there might be a meeting or two I can recommend.
__Kevin Mooney is a Confusion Corner columnist. He may be done handing out brochures, but he can still add you to the listserv.__