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A Critical Look At Campus Publications

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Susqu chapter.

When I read Genevieve Turner’s recent article “How Much is Too Much” about some problems student organizations face, I was blown away. It’s rare to hear someone articulate something that I’ve been thinking about with such clarity. The essay identifies several issues plaguing our campus publications and clubs as a whole. You should read her excellent article for yourself to explore some ideas for solutions to these problems while also raising a few new concerns of my own.

Turner discusses and explores challenges specific to literary clubs. I may not be a literary club person per se, but I want other people to be able to find these organizations and read their stuff. Communicating what they’re about to interested students, I believe, is the primary challenge I see facing these clubs right now. If people see that a club is doing something they like, some will want to be a part of it.

Look at WQSU, the campus radio station at Susquehanna University. It’s a thriving organization, not just because of the awesome students and advisors, but because what they do is highly visible (and audible) to anyone who walks through the lower part of Degenstein Campus Center. People see that, and some students like what they see so much that they go out of their way to find out how to get involved. 

With a few exceptions, I can’t really think of any student publications I read regularly. To be honest, I kinda just assume that most of the works will be serious and unapproachable. However, when I was reflecting on that idea, I realized that I only assume these things because these publications are not visible to me. Heck, until recently, I only heard about our campus newspaper whenever there was a small controversy over alleged factual errors or omissions.

On the other hand, I think about how many times I’ve picked up a copy of The Squirrel or read the poems on the Stall Seat Journal while on the toilet. I don’t go out of my way to consume more of that content, but I know it exists because I see it, and I read it because it is physically available to me in the places I frequent.

Now, visibility is not the only thing that’s needed. A club needs to understand the core of what makes the organization work and hold itself to a high standard. Fundamentally, is the organization good at what it does or is it merely a group of people with vaguely related interests and/or practicum requirements? Sure, those standards might not be reached every semester, but lowering them is a recipe for a slow and painful fall into obscurity. This can happen even to some of the oldest and most institutional student organizations. Decades of continuity can fall apart within a few short years because people lose sight of the purpose the club serves in the fabric of the campus.

Our campus newspaper is a prime example of this. I looked them up and found a digital archive from when they used to print weekly. Opening up some of them at random and reading through them, you can tell that the organization understood what was at its core. The topics covered were wide-ranging, the editorial quality was great, and it covered stories that were relevant to students’ daily lives. I saw a blurb with a call for applications to be an editor, informative content about elections, an entire section dedicated to promoting club activity, and so much more packed into eight large-font pages of newsprint. Oh, and it had comics that were pretty funny! It was clear what they were about and how to get involved. In contrast, when I picked up the two semesterly copies this year, they were filled with outdated information about events I wished I could’ve attended, glaring editorial errors, and were an overall disappointing taste of what a university newspaper could be.

It’s not a panacea, but I know that the campus newspaper in particular is in the unique position to directly address some of the issues Turner pointed out. Both with its own challenges in recruiting and retaining members, and with the campus-wide challenges of event communication and community-building.

Other literary clubs don’t have an immediately viable solution to their problems like the student newspaper. However, I strongly believe that many can find their own ways to live up to their potential.

As we come to the end of the academic year, I think all campus publications will benefit from taking time to reflect on their core purpose. Do they know what it is? Are they living up to that purpose? Do the members even want to do those things? If the answer is no to any of those questions, they should seriously consider how to improve or if the club should even continue to exist. It’s a tough existential question, but will bear fruit if taken seriously. It will take work to address the underlying issues that hinder our student organizations. By fostering visibility, high standards, and staying true to our core purposes, we can ensure that these clubs thrive, enriching campus life for all of us. 

To Do at SU is a student-run account that promotes student club and organization events on and around the Susquehanna University campus. They strive to connect students with opportunities to socialize and be involved on campus, promote and support clubs and organizations, and give students opportunities to foster community and belonging. Check out their website and follow them @to_do_at_su on Instagram.