With about 465 official clubs currently on campus, the College of William and Mary is redefining what it means to be a recognized student organization.
Starting at the beginning of this semester, the Office of Student Leadership Development has implemented new procedures for student groups seeking recognition and has developed a system for classifying existing organizations.
Until this year, all that was required to start a club was a written constitution and a meeting with Student Leadership Development director Anne Arseneau a process that was theoretically possible to complete within 24 hours.
The problem with such a succinct process, Arseneau said, was that many organizations were failing. She said the majority of clubs that go defunct do so within 18 months of gaining recognition. To counteract this tendency, more checkpoints have been introduced on the road to recognition.
“I think the M.O. before was that because we made it so easy to become a recognized student organization, we had a lot of people just come in and out of the process because it wasn’t a big deal to do that,” Arseneau said.
In accordance with the new procedures, interested students must first attend an information session. Then, they are required to draft a constitution and are recommended to meet with a staff advisor to review it. Next, they must submit the constitution and an application to the Student Organization Recognition Committee. The committee will hear the case and make a recommendation back to Student Leadership Development, where final approval rests.
“We want people to get it right the first time so that the document that is governing their organization is a helpful document to them,” Arseneau said. “Most of the time when people are writing constitutions, they’ve never done that before, and so we think we have the opportunity to provide effective coaching.”
The SORC is made up of six students, four appointed by Student Assembly and two appointed by Student Leadership Development. Arseneau said that, when she first began her job, she noticed that the process lacked student representation in the process.
Brianna Buch ’15 is a member of SORC appointed by Student Leadership Development.
“If these groups are run by students, and … a lot of this activity is student-driven and funds are allocated by students through Student Assembly to these groups, then students should have a bigger role in the decision-making process,” Buch said.
Sustainability and uniqueness are some major characteristics Buch said the SORC looks for in an application.
To be considered, a proposed organization must have at least five interested members. To be approved, it must not be too similar to an existing organization.
“The biggest things are just sustainability and making sure they have a mission that’s unique,” Buch said. “I know one of the big things is making sure, especially if the members are juniors or seniors, that they have interested freshmen or sophomores who are looking to carry the club on.”
James Cole ’18 is a guinea pig of the process. He is interested in starting an organization focused on studying and practicing different styles of medieval fighting.
He has attended the information session and is currently trying to build interest and begin drafting a constitution.
“It’s a little daunting, but I feel like this will probably be able to make [the club] pretty good,” Cole said.
Cole said he knew his constitution would have to address risk and safety issues due to the nature of the group. In his case, gaining recognition is crucial since the group will be dependent on SA funding for equipment.
“It’s obviously an activity that requires equipment at such, and I don’t have a lot beyond my own personal gear, so I did ask about funding and I know you don’t really get funding unless you are an officially recognized group,” he said. “So that … is a problem for me right now, trying to figure out how I’m going to go about getting materials.”
Arseneau said about 50 people have gone to information sessions so far, but only 15 constitutions have been submitted for review. However, all of the five organizations that have followed the process through to the SORC hearing have been approved.
For currently recognized organizations, a new system will classify them either as sponsored, affiliated-green or affiliated-gold, based on criteria such as whether the organization represents the institution at large or a smaller group of people, the complexity of the organization’s activity, and the risk associated with the activity.
Sponsored organizations will be given priority in the Scheduling Office for meetings and events. They will also be eligible for a CSU and use of the College’s tax-exempt status and are required to have a faculty advisor.
Affiliated-green groups will receive some of these privileges on the basis of availability and are recommended to have an advisor, while affiliated-gold groups will have fewest privileges and not need an advisor.
However, Arseneau said not much would change in terms of these groups’ experience based on their classification; rather, the new classifications just make official the hierarchy of privilege that already exists based on the needs of each organization.
“It’s defining what already exists for most people,” Arseneau said. “The places where there is not a service provided to an affiliated-gold group is typically a place where they are not already afforded a privilege.”
For example, the SA’s King and Queen’s Ball has always been booked outside the normal scheduling lottery, as have events like AMP concerts at Lake Matoaka. Classifying the SA and AMP as sponsored organizations simply codifies this practice.
“The actual privilege isn’t changing; it’s just that we’re naming the things that are already in practice so that it’s more transparent to the groups that don’t have that privilege,” Arseneau said.