It took me 3 years to build the courage, and numerous broken promises to finally write this article, which I have been meaning to since when I was in my second year.
The reason why I am choosing to discuss such a volatile issue when I am about to leave college is the effect that the existing system commonly used for fraternising has on an average new kid who joins our campus. Coming from extremely controlled environments, (probably Chaitanya or Narayana if he is from the Telugu states) this kid yearns for freedom, for learning beyond the syllabus, and most importantly, for connecting with people. He starts off with something of his interest. He remembers that he used to like dancing in class 10th and applies to the relevant dance club (Just an example). A week later, he is informed that he doesn’t meet the threshold requirement, and can not be a part of it. His attempt at making friends, at connecting with people has failed. Now let’s all remember that he is just a first year, who barely knows what goes on in college.
During this time, he is approached by a senior, who claims to be from the same geographical region as him who then invites him to a group, which promises to look after him, help him learn and grow, care for him for all his time here, etc. He starts spending time, and realises that this is probably the best thing that happened to him. And in he keeps going in such a manner, that the innocent and naive kid who joined the college, within a year’s time helps ‘transform another innocent and naive kid who joined the college the year after him’. What happened to him in his first year? What did he do to others when he became a senior? These questions I best leave to your imagination, or ‘knowledge’, whichever term you are comfortable with.
Most students who join Harvard, or any of the Ivy League colleges for that matter, make extremely conscious decisions about the why and the how. They spend gruelling hours in their atmospheres, often pulling off all-nighters to scrape through. To bring out a contrast, an all-nighter at MIT means going to class the next day having worked the entire night, whereas for us, it also includes sleeping the next day. The question then arises, do these people have a social life? Internet tells us that they probably have the best one there is to have.
With 75 registered student bodies in just the Harvard Graduate School for Arts and Science, they definitely indulge in extra-curricular activities. For them, an extra-curricular activity is something that they are passionate about. Anyone is welcome to the debating club, as long as they are passionate about debating. (Their website literally says: “No previous debate experience is required”). People there chose. In contrast, we here either participate in a rat race to get into the clubs of our choice, or have a benefactor who would help us with a ‘seat’ in the club or association. Everyone is welcome to apply, but not everyone gets in. One also has to be a right fit for the club’s culture. Many a times, clubs serve best as event management platforms for its own members in stead of acting as incubators for the growth of students.
In our institute, we have an extra-curricular system, where one has to prove via skill set and dedication, in an interview (I still haven’t understood how the latter can be quantified), that they ‘deserve’ to be in a club. This is absolutely different from what clubs in Harvard, MIT, BITS, and many other reputed institutions around the world practice. If only we had societies where people could just go do what they wanted to, our stay here would have been so much more the better.
What we have here are two problems facing us: the batch system and the stringent selection in clubs. And as someone wise once said, within each problem lies an opportunity. If we were to open up clubs to everyone who wanted to be a part of it and make them societies, and within each society have an elected/selected general body to manage the affairs of the society, we could solve both the problems. Students get to focus on their extra-curricular activity of choice, and the influence of geographical region based batches diminishes. Even clubs (general bodies) would now have a dedicated demographic who they know to address, and conduct activities for, without having to worry about participation.
In our speeches, we claim to be the best of the best. Data obtained from NITI Aayog places us in the top 0.0264% of students aged between 18-24. Yet we still struggle to come up with a system which helps our student from falling prey to any untoward incident such as ragging, and providing all our students with ample opportunity for a holistic development. It is easy for us to blame it all on the administration, but we should ask ourselves this, have we as students contributed anything ever to benefit the general students? If I ask myself this, I simply look back at the three years it took me to even write this article. Every year we elect representatives. They do a lot of work for us, but is that the work that we want them to do? We don’t know, probably because we haven’t even thought about it ourselves.
The ability to think, the ability to decide and the ability to act, is something which I learned students from Harvard or other such places are better than us at. The system I proposed is just one alternative, that might potentially wean students away from connecting on the basis of ‘where they come from’ to instead ‘connect based on their common interests’. You might be able to come up with a better one. Do it. Go talk to professors about it. I was surprised by their positive reactions when I did. I thought they wouldn’t care, but contrary to popular belief, they too have been in our positions, know the way things work and how they should work instead, and most importantly, care.
If I were to advise you, it would be to not take anything here for granted. Question it, question everything, but do it with a sense of bettering things, not just criticising it vainly. And build upon that question with tangible action. If you see wrong going around, call it out. Find like minded people and stand up to injustice, against yourself, and against your friends. I hope you are more courageous than me, and to those who are, I wish you good luck and hope that you make this a better place to live in, than what you found!
The author, Mohammed Faraaz is NMC’s Editor-in-Chief and also serves as an Additional Secretary for the English Literary and Debating Club, NITW.
All views expressed are personal.