The location of the Student Activities Fair, coupled with the university’s speech policy, created barriers Saturday for fraternities and other student groups that are not formally recognized by the university.
The fair was held in O’Donovan Hall, a building not among the university’s designated free speech zones. In past years, groups that are not recognized by the university and therefore not permitted to table at student activities fairs were able to set up tables in nearby Red Square and the lobby of LeaveyCenter, both of which have this designation.
At this month’s event, which was the first time such a fair was held in the spring, unrecognized groups were not permitted to set up tables within close range of the fair because there is not a free speech zone near the dining hall.
According to Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh, these groups wereinstructed that because the area outside Leo’s was not reserved for the spring Student Activities Fair, they could not set up tables outside but were allowed to distribute flyers and hold banners.
Sigma Phi Epsilon member Shane Thomas (COL ’15) was frustrated with what he described as a convoluted and unfair rule.
“We were asked to move from the front [of Leo’s] and the rule apparently was that the table couldn’t hit the ground … and it just didn’t make a lot of sense,” Thomas said. “[It] seemed like an odd administrative method … like [they were] looking for a way to get us out of there.”
Brian Saslow (MSB ’15), vice president of marketing for Alpha Kappa Psi, agreed that the rules seemed arbitrary.
“It didn’t make sense that we weren’t allowed to set up a table but we were allowed to stand out there with our sign. It seemed like a picky rule,” Saslow said.
Saslow said that he did not believe that these obstacles would significantly affect AKPsi’s spring recruitment, which is mainly conducted through information sessions and via Facebook.
H*yas for Choice, another unrecognized student group, chose not to attend this Student Activities Fair, anticipating these sorts of obstacles.
“It wasn’t something we discussed attending because we know the laws regarding free speech zones on campus really well. We knew that if we were to attend we would get kicked out,” H*yas for Choice President Kelsey Warrick (COL ’14) said.
Despite these hiccups, Student Activities Commission Vice-Chair Andi DeBellis (MSB ’14) was pleased with the event’s location.
“Leo’s was open and there wasn’t congestion at all,” she said.
The fair, previously and still commonly known as the Student Activities Commission Fair, changed its affiliation last spring to accommodate the broadened scale of the event.
In the past, the fair was not exclusive to student groups under the SAC advisory board, allowing tabling by groups under all the other advisory groups, including the Media Board, Advisory Board for Club Sports, Performing Arts Advisory Council and the Center for Social Justice’s Advisory Board for Student Organizations.
SAC fair was renamed the Student Activities Fair this fall to reflect collaboration between all advisory boards, the Georgetown University Student Association and the Student Group Union.
According to DeBellis, SAC requested a separate budget for the fairs at GUSA’s 2012 Budget Summit in order to alleviate SAC’s burden of supporting this campus-wide event.
“We requested $10,000 and spent approximately $5,500 in the fall and $4,500 in the spring,” DeBellissaid.
SAC Chair Jennifer Chiang (SFS ’15) attributed the difference in the expenses to space rentals.
“The expenses were more or less the same besides the space,” Chiang said.
Chiang said that the idea of holding a spring fair was prompted by requests from student groups.
“We started the spring Student Activities Fair as a response to some of our groups. A lot of them wanted to promote more during the middle of the academic year,” Chiang said.
DeBellis added that the spring fair provided extracurricular opportunities for students seeking more involvement in campus activities midway through the year.
“It’s a great opportunity for people who were abroad to get engaged again,” she said.
However, if the Student Activities Fair is not held on the front lawn or in Leavey Center, groups without access to the benefits that come with university recognition are likely to continue to experience similar difficulties in advertising their organizations and recruiting members, as they did this Saturday.
“The larger issue is that just because a group is not affiliated with Georgetown, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the ability to be exposed to the same traffic as other organizations,” Thomas said.
Derek Embry (MSB ’15), Sigma Phi Epsilon director of recruitment, agreed.
“We deserve to have equal treatment as other groups. We should at least have some sort of exposure to the student body because I believe that students deserve to hear our story,” Embry said.