The Committee on Student Life voted to approve 45 and reject 11 new student organizations at its monthly meeting Thursday.
After prospective student organizations apply for provisional recognition by the Dean of Students Office, a 10-member faculty and staff committee makes a preliminary recommendation to approve or reject them, according to Assistant Dean for Student Engagement and Leadership Kate Colleran. The Undergraduate Council Rules Committee also votes on whether or not to grant recognition to each prospective club — the second year in which the UC has provided input on new student groups. The CSL took both the staff committee’s and the UC Rules Committee’s decisions into account when making the final determination.
The CSL is a student-faculty committee created by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to oversee the rising sophomore housing lottery, to discuss residential policies across Houses, and to grant College recognition to student organizations. Several Undergraduate Council members, DSO administrators, and House Faculty Deans sit on the body.
UC President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 said in an interview Thursday that when deciding which organizations to approve, the CSL aims to avoid “a proliferation of student organizations” that do not add to the range of activities on campus. She suggested “maybe doing some review” in the future to consider combining smaller student groups under larger “umbrella organizations.”
Of the 58 total organizations applying for recognition, 44 were unanimously approved by both the staff committee and the UC Rules Committee, four were unanimously rejected, and 10 were contested by the two bodies. At the meeting Thursday, the CSL debated the 10 contested student groups, ultimately voting to approve one, reject seven, and delay two for a final vote in December.
Colleran wrote in an email that discrepancies between staff committee and UC recommendations are “ironed out in the CSL process where both groups are represented.”
“The student (UC) voice is crucial, but neither group alone has the full picture of the student organization scene that new groups are entering which is why both groups are part of the process,” Colleran wrote.
Palaniappan said she thinks that when in doubt, the UC Rules Committee was inclined to vote in favor of approving groups, while the CSL leaned toward a cautious rejection.
“The Rules Committee of the UC were much more of the opinion that we should approve groups and be less critical about how different they are from other ones, and maybe allowed for a bit more overlap than what the CSL staff were allowing for,” Palaniappan said.
UC Rules Committee Chair Conner P. Williams ’21 also said that the Rules Committee generally gave student groups they were unsure about the benefit of the doubt.
“I think largely we’re just more optimistic about students, is really the difference. Like we would see students with maybe ideas that were three-fourths of the way there, or kind of related, and we would see them optimistically as, eventually they would be there,” Williams said.
“I think during the meetings the reason that a lot of sway was given to CSL rather than UC was mostly because they actually had a lot of great points,” Williams added. “They’re really worried about the fact that we have a lot of clubs currently, and we’re going to need to stem that growth eventually.”
After the CSL grants provisional recognition to a student organization, that group is subject to close supervision by the College for a period of one year. After this stage, the UC evaluates the groups along a standardized rubric and works with DSO administrators to determine which should become formally recognized independent student organizations. Last spring, the CSL voted to bar about half of provisionally recognized clubs from full recognition — primarily because of poor engagement with the approval process.
Student organizations reap certain privileges from full College recognition. Among other benefits, these extracurricular groups can reserve on-campus facilities, publicize events and recruitment, receive UC funding, and use the Harvard name, according to the Harvard College 2019-2020 Recognized Student Organization Guide.
In addition to evaluating newly proposed clubs, auditing the comp processes of existing student organizations is a top priority for the CSL this year. Some CSL members have described comps — vetting and training procedures mandated by many undergraduate clubs at Harvard — as unnecessarily exclusive and harmful to campus culture.
—Staff writer Sanjana L. Narayanan can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.