Written by an anonymous student for the April-May 2023 issue of the Fiat Lux News.

This semester has seen somewhat of a resurgence in campus activities participation, from Team Trivia hosted by the Writing Center to Rochester trips to see shows like Beetlejuice and Hadestown led by the CSI. Still, a complaint echoes around campus: What happened to student participation? More than a few clubs have gone to the wayside in the past few years, and the ones that remain alive are often gasping for air. Turnout at student activity events has often been shockingly low despite incentives like prizes and free food. 

Many might attribute this decline in campus participation to the COVID-19 pandemic; the university shut down, then moved to mostly remote classes and remote activities, and strict CDC protocols were with us up until a semester or two ago. It’s true that the pandemic might have allowed us to be more well-adjusted to spending time either by ourselves or with a smaller circle of friends than we were previously in the habit of prior to March 2020, but campus admins and faculty say that AU’s campus life had begun to flounder long before COVID. Old Fiat Lux News articles and withered alums tell ye olde tales of riotous St. Patrick’s Day parades, bustling Greek life (which is no longer relevant at Alfred), and a campus-wide vested interest in activities. Now, although student organizations still carry on and accomplish many community and social events, the participation from the general student body and the public—that is, those who are not committed club members—is very low, and club members and officers, no matter how dedicated, are decidedly waning in numbers. 

Another angle could be, as the Boomers say, “those darn phones,” or to put it more eloquently: the increased ability to communicate over the internet with more-accessible-than-ever-before technology, connecting people all over the world across any amount of space instantly, allows individuals to form relationships and groups that better suit their current interests and social needs; thus, there may be decreased interest in physical social spaces, where etiquette norms and the luck of the draw are god. There is little-to-no control over your environment in many public settings, and perhaps the younger generations are opting for the safety and predictability of the internet. 

One final factor is that in college settings specifically, there is a sort of “team spirit” that students need to adopt in order to fully enjoy the social benefits of the institution. Increased awareness of the pitfalls of herd mentality could be part of the reason that many people are opting for the perceived individual route—especially if your institution happens to perpetuate institutionalized discrimination, limit disability access, and refuse to address instances of racism. Student events depend heavily on school funding and approval, and some students feel there is a lack of control in this area. 

It’s true that events full of empty chairs are disappointing for those (often students themselves) who have put effort into organizing it, but the blame may not lie entirely in an “antisocial student body.” As students of Alfred University, which events will we choose to go to? Which organizations will we choose to support? And how will we build a campus life that is by the students and for the students that truly represent us?