The challenges of “Doing Anything Imaginable”: Some blame bureaucracy for failing to support student initiatives

Alumna Mary Hall wanted to distinguish her time on campus by starting a club. Inspired by her own sobriety, Hall decided to start a club to support sober Chapman students. . Eight weeks of frustration later, her club still wasn’t approved and she found herself heading into the Student Engagement office hoping to talk to someone in charge.

“I had requested an in-person interview, I had an email chain with a Student Organization representative about twenty emails long, and after two months, I felt like I was being strung along ” Hall said. “I demanded to speak to someone who could give me some answers, and felt like I had to go so out of my way to create something positive.”

Hall called her experience “incredible frustrating” and is not alone. In a community where “Doing Anything Imaginable” is the new God term, some students claim their experiences with the administration left them feeling unsupported. 

Kayla Wiechert, the associate director of Student Engagement, told ChapBook in an email that there is not a prescribed time frame for establishing a new student organization, since the nature of clubs varies. One may get approved in two weeks while another takes a whole semester.   

“We really did drop the ball with Mary’s club,” said Dean of Students Jerry Price.

Hall and Tyler McEwen, a senior psychology major  wanted to start their club after meeting other students with similar backgrounds.

A meeting between Hall, McEwen, and a Student Orgs representative was held at the beginning of Fall semester. Other sober students attended the meeting and they  were asked to share their experiences and struggles being sober at Chapman.

“Mary started a group text with all the people there, and once we came to the general conclusion that the faculty was not going to actually do anything with the information we provided for them, we got the consensus from our group chat to start a club,” McEwen said.

Hall and McEwen said the first roadblock to forming the club was an email chain created with a graduate assistant in the office of Cross Cultural Engagement. Technical problems, like the assistant forgetting to print a hard-copy of the club’s constitution for its proposal, dragged the approvement process on.

The graduate assistant did not reply to requests for comment, but Hall said she lost motivation after having a meeting with the graduate assistant.

“I was trying to provide a positive, safe space on campus and provide Chapman with something that I think it is really lacking,” Hall said. “The entire process was discouraging.”  

The club was later approved after Hall met with Wiechert. But due to the process being deliberated over several months, student interest dwindled. Hall then graduated in December 2017.

“I agree with the student that there were some administrative missteps that resulted in a delay in the group being reviewed and approved,” Weirchart said in an email to ChapBook. “I’m sorry to hear that students feel like this.”

Wiechert also stated that Student Orgs cannot have a “one-size-fits-all-approach” to approving clubs on campus, saying that she hopes Hall’s experience was “an exception rather than the rule.”

There are different types of clubs that require different processes of consideration, Price said. Hypothetically speaking, a group like a skydiving club would pose a concern because of safety, and a soccer club could conflict with Chapman Athletics policy.

More than two years ago, now-senior history major Imani Woodley was hoping to work with Student Orgs to bring Alpha Kappa Alpha, an African American sorority, to Chapman’s campus. She started the approval process in June of 2015. Because Greek Life organizations and clubs have different approval processes, she did not go through the same procedures as Hall, but said she experienced similar frustrations.

“The school was really on board at first. But the longer the process went on, the less responsive they were,” Woodley said. “I was exhausted by the time I finally stopped trying to bring the sorority to campus.”

After a string of emails with Chapman’s Greek Life coordinator and Alpha Kappa Alpha’s administration, Woodley, and several other black female students that were assisting her in the process, said they were burnt out. According to Woodley, the process fizzled out in January of 2017.

Chapman’s Greek Life Assistant Director, Jaclyn Dreschler has worked with multiple students who want to bring Alpha Kappa Alpha to campus in the last three year, and said the school still remains interested.

Alpha Kappa Alpha has specific requirements and timelines, so “a solid partnership with the larger organization cannot move forward” currently, Drechsler said.

After her sorority efforts, Woodley tried to bring a African American/African Diaspora minor to campus. She started her conversations with the Wilkinson College in the fall of 2016. Although initially supported, Woodley said that the board stopped responding to her requests by the end of the semester.

“They’re super on board initially, but don’t want to support you through the long term process. It definitely added to my own fatigue as a student organizer and it makes sense why there’s so (few) organizations for students of color, not just existing, but long lasting and consistent.”

ChapBook did not reach out to Dean of Wilkinson College Patrick Fuery for comment.

Woodley’s experience has made the graduating senior change her academic course. Initially planning to continue her masters degree at Chapman, she will be leaving this spring.

“This (issue) coupled with other racial issues I have with our campus, was a deciding factor in why I chose not to get a degree here,” she said.

Hall felt her failed efforts were the result of discrepancies in Student Orgs and the administration. Both she and Woodley said it limits students’ creative freedom.

“It would be a good excuse if Student Org’s different size approach meant that certain clubs got more support in the end,” Hall said. “But we haven’t seen that at all.”

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