To the Editor, The Denisonian
Every year my department’s student group, S/A Forum, hosts an “Alumni Night” when a panel of sociology/anthropology alumni is invited to talk about their lives, their careers, and the connections between what they learned at Denison and what they’ve encountered in the world at large. Besides being a fun event, the networking it sparks over the years has resulted in informal pipelines into educational and occupational opportunities for current students. Usually about 25-30 students and 4-5 alumni participate every year. It’s basically a great event, but is it worth funding?
The DCGA says no.
Although S/A Alumni Night’s relatively modest budget of travel reimbursement and refreshments had been funded by DCGA in the past, this year DCGA suggests that department funds be used for this student-generated event. In all, the S/A Forum received only 5% of its requested budget of $406, in other words, $21 for a year’s activities.
I was curious whether other clubs were similarly snubbed, and I found a lot of variation and some interesting facts. Some academically-oriented clubs were also slighted. The Denison Chemical Society got only 10 percent of its request (for a total allocation of $134) and the Economics Club received 9 percent, but still came away with a healthy $440. Other clubs did very well. The Spanish honorary received 100% of its request ($600). Society of Physics Students managed to have $1260 approved (63% of its request).
Especially dismaying is the high number of events that address students’ intellectual development that were summarily dismissed by DCGA. For example, the Economics Club apparently planned a speaker series with reasonably priced academics who would speak on the minimum wage, energy economics, and the economics of altruism. The DCGA said “no thank you” to all of it.
In fact, the way these funds are divided seems to promote anti-intellectualism, a dangerous and unwelcome trend on a liberal arts campus. Instead of speakers on contemporary topics or alumni discussing the value of their education, DCGA decided on $13,375 for biweekly riding lessons for the 25 members of the Equestrian Club, $4400 for the ten-member sailing club, and $840 for shotgun shells from Walmart for the Clay Target Club. That shotgun shell fund could have more than funded the slam poet the Writers’ Club wanted to bring in, but the DCGA said the Writers’ Club should make do with $50 for the year.
Does DCGA funding reinforce power hierarchies? I looked at racial and religious hierarchies. Besides the Europe-oriented clubs like German and Spanish culture clubs mentioned above, the pursuits of the leisure class are well funded. Ultimate Frisbee receives $6448 (three-quarters of its request) and the Outdoor Club receives $10,700, more than half its request. In contrast, The Black Student Union received only 38% of its requested budget, La Fuerza Latina 23%, Middle Eastern Culture Club 17%, and Global China Connection received only 1% of its request, or $26 for its year of programming. One of the most popular dance troops on campus, the Denison Dazzlers, asked only that that they could get their uniforms dry cleaned. “No!” the DCGA said, and awarded the group a meager $16 for the year.
There is a similar adherence to the religious power hierarchy. Three Protestant groups, Young Life, the Denison Christian Community and AGAPE, received 50%, 58% and 63% of their requests, respectively. The Catholic Newman Club received 51%, the Jewish Hillel Society received 37% and the Muslim Student Association 15% of their respective requests.
Perhaps the starkest difference is with the clubs associated with political parties. The Republican Club received 100% of its request, or $250, while the Denison Democrats got only 0.5% of its request, for a total of $30.00.
Who are the big winners in this boondoggle? The University Programming Council received $208,157 for its year of comedians, hypnotists, and attendance at an “activities” conference that removes students from their class work for five days in mid-semester. Perhaps it will also include the three day retreat for all 15 of its members in an off-campus location, as they have enjoyed in the past. The DCGA awarded itself more than $45,500, ensuring that students will still have an opportunity to jump in a bouncy house just like they did in elementary school, and that the high costs of bureaucratizing the whole club process are paid for another year.
Denison is attracting a more diverse student body ethnically, economically, and religiously. Many students and their families struggle mightily to afford the fees that are used to subsidize student organizations that have little to do with education and which do not represent their interests. Even more pernicious, I think, are the effects on those who have control over the pork barrel of student activity funds. Are we teaching DCGA representatives to be discerning moral agents for active life in a democratic society, or agents of cronyism and patronage? If the former, then it’s time to reduce the activity fee or make its distribution more rational and democratic.
Anita Waters, Sociology/Anthropology
Cc Megan Pearce, President DCGA
Ashley Bartreau, Finance Chair DCGA