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Beyond Dodgeball: Tailoring Extracurricular Opportunities for Adults

The EvoLLLution | Beyond Dodgeball: Tailoring Extracurricular Opportunities for Adults
Non-traditional students see the value in extra-curricular opportunities, but if those opportunities don’t align with their reasons for attending they won’t sacrifice their precious time to participate.

My college has somewhere around 200 organizations on campus for just under 5000 students. Between Greek organizations, student-run clubs, honor societies and athletics, there’s something for everyone.

Part of orientation includes a Club Day wherein campus organizations set up booths in the gym so new students can browse for ways to participate in extracurricular activities.  These activities are important, we’re told, because they allow for socializing away from classrooms and homework, contributing to the all-important networking foundation critical for successful career hunting.  They allow for community contributions through volunteering, offer focus for creative endeavors, and make students feel like they are involved in their college experience.

I went to club day.  I left almost immediately without talking to a single person.

I’ll be honest.  I do not like crowds or loud music, so a gymnasium full of high-energy 18-22 year olds yelling for attention over the pop music blaring over the speakers made it hard for me to breathe.  It all felt too juvenile, not at all what I was looking for.  I don’t care for free neon sunglasses or mini-packets of candy.  I’m a grown woman.  My goal for college was not partying with the girls and hooking up.  I wasn’t looking for ways to celebrate emancipation from my parents; I’d been financially independent since joining the Army years before.  As I fled the gym, I was disappointed.  There were so many groups and they all seemed exactly the same: a bunch of noisy kids with whom I had nothing in common.

I spent three semesters actively avoiding the student body, much to my regret.  It wasn’t anxieties about networking or community service that urged me to get involved.  It was the loneliness.  Despite by best efforts, I had many things in common with my fellow students.  We knew the same teachers, struggled with the same assignments and worried about jobs. We shared the frustrations of paying for classes we didn’t need!  So I started making an effort to engage my classmates in conversation.  I joined the newspaper despite a deep distaste for talking to strangers.  I even became an officer for an honor society, which involved planning social events with those rowdy kids.  It meant a lot of work on my part, but I made friends and some of the loneliness eased, though I still don’t feel truly connected to other students.

Unlike most students, almost all of whom are required to live on campus all four years, I live twenty minutes from school.  Any time I spent at school was away from my home and my husband.  I like my home and I love my husband, so I wasn’t going to take time away from them for just any club.  The Greek clubs seemed to be life-consuming, athletics were out of the question, and student-run clubs were unappealing.  Extra-curricular activities seemed far more of an inconvenience than they were worth.  Since club day, I have tried to think of what kind of club day I would have liked.  What can campus offer me that is better than the comforts of my home and family?

When I was attending a tiny community college in lower Alabama, there was one club that I looked forward to every week.  It was called Scholars’ Bowl.  We had two teams and we competed with community colleges across the state in a quiz game that was rather like a combination of Jeopardy and Family Feud.  It engaged me intellectually, helped me make friends with other students who shared my interests, encouraged my competitiveness, and, most importantly, gave me scholarship opportunities.  I felt like I was getting a lot out of that group, enough to justify the weekends I spent away from home at competitions.  The only group at my four-year school which has given me anywhere close to the same experience has been the newspaper.  I got good work experience out of it and felt like I was actually networking with the students because they really took it seriously.

So if I were to make suggestions to colleges about getting non-traditional students engaged on campus, I would have to emphasize that most non-traditional are busy people and don’t want to take time out of our lives for gossiping and parties.  I’m not interested matching t-shirts and childish games.  I’m in college to prepare for better career opportunities so any organization I join needs to have an emphasis on that, either by providing work experience or offering scholarship opportunities.  Otherwise, there really is no reason for me to make the effort.

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