Clubs on campus can be sources of friendship, academic growth, professional connections and party invites, but they can also be a stressful aspect of life for some on the Hilltop. Between the application process and constant interaction with hierarchical power dynamics, some students can struggle with the stress culture associated with a social life that revolves around clubs.
When first-year students arrive at college, they typically spend the first few weeks finding their footing socially. A reputation for social activities is “very important” in the college decision for 44.2 percent of students, according to a 2014 study conducted by UCLA. At Georgetown, clubs have become that center for social activities, according to Charlotte Kelly (COL ’20), a tour guide for the Blue and Gray Tour Guide Society.
After experiencing the tough club application process, students can still have a positive club experience by joining open membership clubs, according to E.L. Gaylord (MSB ’21), who works as an Outdoor Education guide and a tutor with the D.C. Schools Project.
“Club culture is very prevalent on campus. It defines our social groups, nighttime activities and shapes our personalities,” Gaylord said. “Being in a club in general positively impacts mental health because it fosters new identities, gives [students] a sense of commitment and expands their intellectual curiosity.”
Rather than steer people away from applying, though, the perceived exclusivity of certain clubs draws students to them by building up their social status, according to W. Gerrod Parrott, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University. For many freshmen, the highly competitive application processes end in disappointment, leading to a feeling of isolation.
“Not only does [rejection] cause hurt feelings, students may come to feel that they do not fit in here,” Parrott said.
Maintaining exclusivity, which many clubs have tried to address, creates an unnecessary and negative environment, according to Gaylord.
“The [club application] process is flawed because everyone takes themselves too seriously,” Gaylord said. “It should be about learning, having fun and growth — not being exclusive just for its own sake.”
Many groups on campus, such as spirit group Hoya Blue and the Georgetown University Astronomical Society, tout their open acceptance, meaning there are no applications required to join them. Forgoing an admissions process allows students to participate in something new with the safety of a no-judgement, low-pressure atmosphere, according to Laura Caron (SFS ’20), president of GUAS.
“We make sure our meetings are hosted like ‘open houses’ and that our discussions are interesting yet accessible for people without technical astronomy knowledge, so that anyone who wants to stop in is welcome,” Caron wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Clubs are a lot more fun when no one is worried about whether they are doing good enough to qualify!”
When clubs remove barriers in the application process, these organizations become healthier spaces for all their members, according to Caron.
“Open membership makes our club better because, since there are no requirements for membership or participation, our members at any given meeting genuinely enjoy being there,” Caron explained.
Groups and resources on campus also serve to combat Georgetown’s stress culture like Project Lighthouse, Active Minds and the John Main Meditation Center. Project Lighthouse helps students as a mediary between campus mental health resources, according to Miranda Gabriel (COL ’20), who works for the club’s hotline.
“The mission of the club is to create a safe and receptive space for Georgetown students to voice their thoughts,” Gabriel wrote in an email. “Our purpose is to make students feel heard and validated, and then to guide them towards more long term services Georgetown offers.”
Counseling and Psychiatric Services workshops focus on different mental health skills ranging from personal reflection to anxiety strategies to finding purpose, but most workshops do require screening. They meet throughout the semester and are a great resource for students who want to work on something specific.
“Intro to Hoya Studies: Thriving at Georgetown” is a noncredit class put on by Health Education Services to help students through the sometimes difficult college landscape by sharing mental health tips and academic strategies to help with Georgetown-specific concerns. The class is offered to students in their first or second years. The course allows students to adapt to the counterproductive atmosphere that campus stress provides, according to Director of Health Education Services Carol Day, who teaches the class.
“The busyness culture where students are striving for more accomplishments and participation in things that contribute to their academic career or prepare them for next steps, contributes to an environment that does not necessarily optimize student well-being,” Day said in an email to The Hoya. “The course offers students the ability to slow down, learn more about their own responses to stress and ways to manage that, and how to understand the art and science of well-being.”
When clubs achieve this healthier environment, they can serve as a reprieve from the overwhelming academics of Georgetown, rather than create another stressor, according to Caron.
“This helps us make a space for taking time away from the demands of classes and work in order to focus on our own well-being and development as complete people,” Caron said.