Why Clubs and Societies are Screwed (For Now)
By Aditya Padinjat, UG’24
As a long-term fan of music, I’ve seen some rock’n’roll stuff. The craziest, weirdest, coolest things you can imagine. I’ve seen Peter Cat Recording Co. live. I really am totally rock’n’roll. But the Student Life Office (SLO) Clubs and Societies Development Programme was maybe the most rock’n’roll place I’d ever seen. To be totally honest, when I went for it, I had no expectations. I thought it would be the usual boilerplate corporate stuff about conflict resolution, sustainability, and all the other things you would expect the Ashoka Consulting Club to ignore. Turns out, I was wrong. The workshop was not just the usual cut-and-dry affair and made me reflect on some of the fundamental issues that are at the core of the Ashokan culture of clubs and societies.
For full disclosure, I was initially planning to use this space to do something else that is fundamentally Ashokan: complain about the administration. I intended to write about the administration being apathetic to the arts, and how the culture of the arts was languishing on campus. Many of the complaints would have been entirely fair as well. You could write a book about all of them. For starters, the two main performance spaces in the university, Dr Reddy’s Auditorium and the amphitheatre, are incredibly inaccessible in multiple ways. The stage in the amphitheatre is a treacherous terrain that is wholly inaccessible for those with mobility issues. Dr Reddy’s is even worse. There is only one lift to help access the venue at all, and once you get in, the stage is blocked off by a set of steps as easy to climb as Mount Everest. Facilities that should be hotspots of artistic development like the music room (only slightly biased in my view here as Music Room Manager) are chronically underfunded and unable to help students in their personal development. There is no shortage of institutional blockages hindering the culture of the arts on this campus. But as I attended session after session of this SLO workshop, I realised that this was not just a problem of administrative neglect. There were far deeper questions to be asked of the Ashokan student body.
In my own view, the root of the issue lies in the culture of Ashokans only being interested in participating in events unless they stand to gain from it in some way. Be it CV experience, monetary gain or gaining social capital, Ashokan students appear to need some encouragement in order to participate in anything, a phenomenon which can be linked to a wider problem of Ashokan apathy. It can be seen in the way that people come for events only to see their friends and then leave (this is a very real issue which breaks my heart every time I see it at a Vistaar Open Mic). This creates another problematic layer in the culture; it encourages an atmosphere where being skilled and refined has the most importance. This is a major issue for multiple reasons. First, it gives a natural advantage to those who have had access to classes and instruments before coming to Ashoka. From my own experience, I know plenty of students who came to Ashoka hoping to pick up music in some way or another but instead have been confronted with a reality that doesn’t allow this to happen because of a lack of equipment. Second, it takes the point of arts culture away from enjoying the arts and shifts it towards attempting to perfect the arts. Both of these are major issues, because our arts spaces should never simply be for the skilled, and you certainly shouldn’t have to be perfect in order to enjoy.
I can hear you despairing now. Many of these problems are symptoms of the wider Ashokan issues of diversity and inclusion that have been pinpointed on multiple occasions in the past. But just as Ashoka is the issue, Ashoka can be the solution as well. From my own experiences working with multiple clubs and societies in the past, I am absolutely convinced that with so many wonderful, passionate, talented people in our clubs and societies, we will have a wonderful clubs and societies scene at Ashoka. In order to get there, we may need a mindset change though. Clubs and societies can’t be competing against each other (god knows we have enough of that); they need to be working together to enhance student life together.
Going back to where this article started, I still think that many of the criticisms I have of the administration are entirely fair. There are innumerable places where the administration can step in to make our Ashokan student life more inclusive, diverse, and at times, simply more functional. But that will continue to exist. New problems which need institutional help will always come up, and students must continue to put pressure on the administration to help solve them. But if Ashokan student culture has to change, the onus has to lie with Ashokan students first. Show up for different types of events, cheer for people you don’t know, don’t leave once your friends are done, and carry your love for arts out of Dr. Reddy’s Auditorium and into the mess lawns. Engage with it in as many different ways as you can. So many Ashokans care so deeply about what they do, and now is the time for the community to make that care and love worth it.