I remember my first year on this campus like it was yesterday. I recall being surprised to see packed libraries on a Sunday. I remember being introduced to the bell curve system and dreading the competitive spirit it brought forth. To this day, I still don’t understand how this system is helpful. For example, students placed in Math 115 still take Math 105 and do exceptionally well, and their sky-high scores are a detriment to other students who aren’t as advanced. This, in turn, makes the grading for less advantaged students even more stressful, adding to an already exacting course load.

But I digress. What stood out the most — and what continues to catch my attention — are the innumerable student organizations on campus.

Students are involved in a laundry list of organizations. Sometimes they overlap in interest, and other times they are as diverse as the campus community itself. But what makes me scratch my head is this question: do students really have an invested interest in the organizations in which they hold leadership positions, or do they simply claim leadership in multiple organizations for their own self-interest?

The events that student organizations plan often overlap with other organizations’ plans. In my experience, however, I have noticed that the student leaders of similar organizations are hesitant to collaborate on events with each other. Instead, it seems that students prefer to work in a fragmented model — one where each organization works alone. But in reality, some organizations with overlapping interests would produce better events if they decided to work together instead of as separate entities.

I am again left to wonder why this is so. Perhaps it is because the culture at the University is one in which students are self-absorbed and more interested in the “I” instead of the “we.” If collaboration could further advance an organization’s mission to, for example, provide mentorship to inner-city youth, then it’s not apparent why collaboration is often replaced by multiple student organizations with parallel agendas but fragmented activities.

My question about the lack of cooperation isn’t condemnation — it’s curiosity. I wonder why collaboration is so rarely pursued on campus. And I can’t help but ask if student leaders’ self-interest is the cause. If student organizations with similar interests were suddenly a singular organization, the student leaders that run these organizations would no longer be able to have résumé-building leadership titles, which wouldn’t be as helpful to their future prospects. But I would hate to think that students have leadership titles in one or multiple organizations simply so they can impress prospective employers and graduate program admissions officials. This helps explain why student organizations don’t collaborate to a greater extent. Holding separate events may not always be the best way for groups to advance their causes, but it does allow leaders to say that they organized the events themselves.

The optimistic part of me would like to think that the culture of this university is one that defines leadership as independent and that student organizations prefer to advance causes in their own independent fashion. However, I admit that when I see students who don’t seem to have a fire in their belly for the interests that their organization serves, I can only assume the title that they hold is held for personal interests and not the community’s interests.

Sadly, it seems that some student organizations have been reduced by their leaders to résumé builders. The interests many student organizations serve might be better furthered by cooperative efforts between similar groups. Consolidation is perhaps too much to hope for, but greater collaboration between student leaders is a very real possibility if leaders can set aside their egos — and their résumés — and work together to produce greater results. It’s not always necessary for organizations to hold their own independent events, and leaders should consider if their organizations could better further their cause by partnering with others in the community.

Brittany Smith can be reached at smitbrit@umich.edu.

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