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A Drying Knowledge Well: Academic Events and Why They Fail

By Kshitiz Shah (UG24)

From 13th to 18th February Ashoka hosted the Nepal-based collective Film SouthAsia, held an interaction at the ‘South Asian Documentary Film Fest & Exhibition’. The event comprised the screening of 7 documentaries, made in South Asian Countries and covering contemporary issues like religious repression, gendered justice, modern protest culture, and many other social movements of the region.

These are issues that students in Ashoka have shown particular interest in engaging with. Even the Media Studies department was very active in advertising the event and making it accessible to as many students as possible. We got daily updates of the fest in our mails and even some Google Classroom streams. Yet, at the end, only a handful of people showed up to the event, continuing a trend of disinterest that is growing ever too prevalent in academic events at Ashoka.

Ashoka has modeled itself as an institution where students are exposed to ideas wildly diverse from their majors, and out-of-class academic events is one major step in that process. We have panel discussions, guest lectures, exhibitions, and documentary screenings happening almost everyday in campus itself. When engaged with properly, these events help students gain new found experience in certain fields, learn novel things and build connections with major achievers in various fields.

Many of these events are student-run, hence they present opportunities to learn many event management skills. It is often that these events have very low interest, financial support and even lower turnout, leading to the organizing students, guest speakers and the general student body losing interest in the event in general. The failure of student-targeted events in grabbing attention of the students themselves is an ironic cycle of sorts, and decreases student involvement in future events furthermore.

One reason is the lack of a functional source of information for these events beforehand. E-mails and posters are the two ways information can be spread in an accessible and convenient way on campus. There is the problem of over-clustering information with e-mails . The sheer amount of events happening everyday means that an average student will get a lot of emails about events they are not interested in regularly. After a point, students have shown frustration towards this over-saturation of event-based mails. Many would even ignore them all-together, and not get proper information about events they would otherwise be very interested in. The single biggest reason many events fail in Ashoka is that most people aren’t even aware about them before, during or even after the event, despite being very interested in the idea itself.

Even if some students do check their mails regularly, it is more likely that they would attend events with catchy mail marketing and added incentives. It could be free food, fun activities or inviting more reputed guest speakers. Not all events intend to do that, and frankly, most clubs who organize these events may not even have the means to do that. For example, while the Entrepreneurship Club would be able to afford free snacks and invite high profile entrepreneurs regularly, some other smaller clubs might not manage that even once a year. Yet, all events need to be advertised as fun mini-carnivals to garner attention at Ashoka at the present. This could very easily lead to all popular events being homogenized as attractive and fun-oriented, an environment that will mostly not be conducive for serious but important discussions which are pushed at the side.

What is most problematic is that due to these minor issues, our academic interests stop at the classroom or the major we’re pursuing. Most events are organized during lunch hour and people would rather rest and enjoy than go to another boring convention which isn’t marketed well enough. Well, would anything change if the events were moved to more feasible timings? Last semester’s Ashoka Literature Festival (ALF) is testament enough that despite events being accessible to students timewise, people would rather not show up.

We could say that the events are just not marketed well enough, or that there is too much spamming in the mails to make sense of anything. Yet, these are long-standing issues, which haven’t been addressed seriously by any involved party without scoff or a random frustrated mail by a student, advising everyone on how to remove specific mails from their inbox. There has been no active willingness shown to improve things in this regard at campus. This passivity is, ironically, very akin to the indifference with which we treat events within the university themselves.

Finally, what does all of this mean for the Ashokan study culture in general? We seem to be so overworked that we would rather take any moment of escapism that we get, rather than accept the already provided numerous opportunities to learn and polish ourselves. Ashoka prides itself in its liberal arts education, where students have the freedom to study whatever they wish to, without barriers of specific fields or majors. A discouragement towards attending these events just brings forward this herd-like mentality of not engaging with anything educational that doesn’t come in an exam or a paper prompt, akin to our much-hated school system.

I would concede that with the sheer amount of work we students do every week, people just need to relax sometimes. Achieving that with an absolute disinterest towards academic discussions and building an out-of-course learning environment that fosters future ideators is short-sighted, and encouraging this is not productive for anyone. We want to get the most out of engaging educational events while not making much effort to even attend them.

Academic events are a major collaboration of the efforts of students, faculty and even guest speakers to expose Ashokans to as many new ideas as possible, and the current disinterest in these events, means there is simply a lack of proper idea-circulation at Ashoka, an integral essence to every successful academic space.

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