In Defense of SAL
by Kyu Seo Ahn
It’s safe to say that the recent enforcement of the open membership policy by Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) is not very popular. Many organizations have stated that this change will destroy the community aspect of clubs and make it impossible for competitive clubs to allocate enough funding to individuals who deserve it due to an increased membership count without an increased budget. While these arguments, and the many more against the policy, all have validity, it is easy to get wrapped up in one’s own opinions and blindly disregard the opposition’s. Despite the outcry against it, the open membership policy has some merit.
College is supposed to be the time when students experience growth, when people try new things and grow as individuals. But how are you supposed to do that when the things you want to try requires you to have done them during high school? Although clubs often state that “no experience is necessary to join,” that is a half-truth at best. When you try out for a club as a novice, you are in direct competition against people who have years of experience, a gap that is near impossible to cross with undeveloped raw talent.
This situation could be considered fair: after all, those who have already invested time into the club’s activity have already proved their dedication in a way that novices have not. But what if the reason that difference existed in the first place was out of the applicant’s control? Students from lower socio-economic positions often do not have access to the same opportunities in high school that other students may have had. In many private and magnet high schools there are classes and workshops dedicated to teaching students specific skills, including how to debate, how to write poetry, how to act in an interview, and much more. Those who can afford them sometimes even hire private professional coaches. Meanwhile, in some high schools located in poorer areas, you would be lucky if your school even had a field for soccer practice or money to pay for a debate coach — much less the funds for a team to travel, compete against others, and hone its skills.
The ones who do get left behind by competitive clubs despite latent potential are often those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. That is to say, the current system is inherently biased against first generation college students and some minorities. It is also foolish to assume that the students conducting tryouts and interviews will always identify and accept the diamond in the rough who never had the chance to shine.
A common argument against a more inclusive membership policy is that it will become impossible to create tight communities as the number of club members increases. However, those who are self-selecting — who are more dedicated, who go to more meetings and events — will still naturally form a community; the only difference is that the individual groups will have more diversity because they have welcomed members who formerly would not have been admitted.
Moreover, once a club has rejected a student, the doors of the club are usually closed to the student permanently. When you are a freshman, the competitive bar is lower than in sophomore year, not to a fair point for novices, but lower nonetheless. Expectations only skyrocket from then on. As the years go on, you are expected to have more and more relevant experience. But how are you supposed to get that experience if you were never allowed in the organization in the first place? While it might be easy for some athletics club or more generalist clubs such as Stanford in Government and Society for International Affairs, it is extremely difficult to gain any experience in a highly specialized club like Mock Trial if you are not part of the official team. Without this open membership policy, the window to join competitive clubs will remain small for all and oftentimes impossible for others due to no fault of their own.
Do not discount the open membership policy just because it challenges the status quo. Something needs to change about how we determine club membership in order to make it more fair for everyone. Even if the open membership policy may not be the definitive, perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction nonetheless.