UCD Confessions on Twitter revealed recently that a lot of UCD Students find Societies too “Cliquey”. Hailey Hawthorne investigates whether this is true.
Back in 2011, UCD’s campus was gearing up for another Student Union election and in an overview of the candidates for SU President by the University Observer, the word on several peoples’ minds seemed to be the term “clique.” The prevailing sentiment of some of the candidates - and the student body voting for them - was that the UCDSU was more concerned with electing groups of friends than the person best suited to any given position. And with recent posts from UCD Confessions on Twitter, it appears the cliques of UCD are alive and well, especially within society committees. A clique is a group of people with common interests who are more likely to be exclusionary to others - meaning it is hard to join one and harder to spot if you are in one.
On October 15th the UCD Confessions Twitter page opined that “if they do not want to be seen as cliquey, society officers should actively try to engage people who are obviously having trouble joining in instead of sticking to people who are easy and convenient to converse with”. In all fairness, it is impossible to spend any significant amount of time with a specific group of people and expect not to grow close, if not become friends, especially in college. People we might have known for years are suddenly not around and it forces us outside our comfort zones, to expand our horizons and try new things. College is the perfect place to do that and, on the surface, societies seem like a great way to make friends, and in many ways they are. Just joining a society and attending one event guarantees you will meet at least one person with the same interests, and speaking from experience, it can be incredibly tempting to stick to the people you know rather than branching out and meeting others.
Unfortunately, it is very different when someone is an officer on the committee of a society. Joining the committee of a UCD society is not meant to be all fun and games. It is technically an unpaid job in which each member of the team performs a specific role to keep the society running smoothly. In turn, each society may have different roles depending on what the society does - for instance Film Soc has Screening Officers and Harry Potter Soc has Heads of Houses - but at its core, the committee of a society and its officers are not just a bunch of friends getting together to hang out at. At least, that is not what it should be, but several students in recent years have been finding that that is exactly the case. To be clear: there is nothing that says the committees of UCD’s student societies cannot be friends or become friends, but as a committee, they also have a responsibility to the students that join, not to preserving their own friendships.
Year after year more and more students grow discouraged from joining societies because the 'cliqueyness' of its committees is so obvious. Watching a group of people meant to be providing a welcoming experience to all members speak only with each other is incredibly intimidating to someone new. A former UCD student remembers taking the time out of their day to attend a coffee morning - a popular event held by most societies - to meet some new people and instead spent an hour sitting alone at the table while the committee spoke only with each other, reminiscing over inside jokes and shared experiences. When the society later advertised a trip for members, that student chose not to go because they feared being left alone, just like they had been at the coffee morning. From personal experience, it is fair to say that cliques are a staple of several societies: during my time as a student, a popular society committee refused to engage with any new members beyond simple greetings, while another committee was welcoming but definitely more engaging with those that were the “right fit” for their premade clique.
Another former student who served on a committee for a year was so worried about leaving the committee that when they ran for the same position the following year, they broke down during the elections: the clique mentality had become so pervasive they were convinced that all those friends they had made would disappear the second she was not still in the clique. Another student remembers an officer of a society asking members to vote for the officer’s partner for a role, just so the couple could be together, and later growing angry when they did not win; that same society’s newly elected auditor told its members who to vote for so they could have all their friends on the committee with them.
Before joining a committee myself, I was confident they were different. I knew cliques existed - I was one of those who a committee ignored in favour of each other - but the society I became a committee member of had always been incredibly welcoming to me, and I could not wait to be a part of it. I did join the committee, and now having been both on the outside and inside of one such clique, it became incredibly obvious that one existed, and I was now a part of it. Time and again my fellow committee members sequestered themselves in some corner of a room, leaving regular members alone and sometimes choosing which events to help out with based on which one of their friends was also helping.
This is not how it should be. Committees should not be allowed to choose officers based on personal relationships, and members should not be pressured to vote for those people over others who actually want to do a decent job. Whether UCD societies want to admit it or not, they are suffering for this favouritism by committees that continually elect officers just because they are friends. A friend of mine missed out on becoming an officer because the society re-elected someone who had already held the role for two years, and then watched as that person neglected their duties because being on the committee with their friends was more important than doing the actual job they had run for and won.
The UCD Confessions Twitter has seen a lot of traffic the last week from people who feel incredibly lonely and isolated because of the current pandemic, but this is not a new issue. Every year I speak to several students who struggle with meeting people, and the repeated insistence that “UCD Societies are a great way to make friends” rings more and more hollow. The societies are just too cliquey, and they are growing worse because, at the end of the day, the desire and ease of being surrounded by friends wins out over the desire to do right by the society and its members, every time.