Michael Sandel, a world-renowned political philosopher, spoke at IE last week. The talk was dynamic, thought-provoking, and downright fun. Arguments for meritocracy and institutionalization of AI in judicial systems flew around the auditorium, as Dr. Sandel kept poking the bear to spur more student debate. But my biggest question leaving the event?
How did they manage to make the room completely full of IE students?
I may be jaded. For the past 2 years, I have been an officer for a club that shall remain nameless. We have struggled to get students to come to our events. Flashy Instagram posts, Canva- created stories, even TikToks, but to no avail. Every time a WhatsApp text is sent into the groupchat, I feel like I am sending it into a dark abyss. I am known to steal a friend’s phone and react to the text myself, just to feel like there is someone out there. At the last event, we had an officer from the United Nations speak to us about land conservation and why student voices need to be involved in the handling of the climate crisis. The moving presentation was unfortunately told to an almost empty classroom of 6 students and 3 staff members. This has been the case too many times, so we changed trajectory. We pivoted to try to make more fun and lighter activities to attract more students. The last trivia night held? One person showed up… and it was my best friend who I had dinner with afterwards. How, in a club that theoretically (based on my WhatsApp group calculations) has over a hundred members, can this be the case?
I do not think it is the fault of the university. Campus Life, along with schools’ offices, constantly host incredible events. Impressive speakers from high up in the ranks of business, politics, and humanities seem to always be around. The amount of times I have seen Isabel Ayuso on campus is crazy. So it is not for lack of trying or that events are not student-centered – they are. It’s that students just don’t see the value in attending. But why is that? There is not one answer, as every student obviously has different reasons. Tower proximity, student profiles, campus culture, and countless others could be to blame. But I still don’t get it. So I talked with two clubs that have, in my opinion, great student engagement and high event turnout. The ELSA Law Society and Wine Club – two very different clubs with two very different purposes, yet both seem to keep growing and getting it right.
European Law Students Association (ELSA)
First, I talked with Dane Chilton, the president of IE’s new ELSA program. Just since the inception in January 2023, they have hosted four major events, in addition to smaller gatherings. ELSA has 80 active members, with even more to come with the new application cycle. Turnout has always exceeded expectations, so I asked Dane why he thought this was the case. Was it just because it’s professional development based? He argued that he believes it’s because clubs need to frame events almost as a privilege. “Events need to provide something for students in order to get engagement. If you arrange almost a “service”, people will naturally want to take part.” Dane says the “secret sauce” is the level of prestige. The most popular events were fancied with catering, certificates ceremonies, and in external locations, such as a law firm. When events are hosted in classrooms that you could have just had a class in, that level of interest disappears. Students don’t feel like there is anything provided.
This week I attended a wine tasting hosted by IE’s Wine Club. Students of all years attended, set up on the couches of floor 16. The tasting lasted a little over an hour, with a bit of networking after trying the five Albariños. I had the chance to speak with some of the officers to get a better insight into what they think is the key to engaging the student body. Mia A. Baki, an officer, suggested that it is because students at the office-like tower don’t speak to each other. Wine Club is unique in the sense that it is a way to bring people together, but not for a motivation of business-networking. Instead, there is a mutual appreciation for wine, and people get to know each other in a non-academic setting. And obviously, a glass or two doesn’t hurt in getting to know other people. It is also interesting to me that most events charge some fee (usually no more than € 5), yet this does not deter turnout at all. Wine Club also does a great job of marketing… their Instagram has a sleek look that is attractive.
There are many other IE clubs that bring in student engagement as well. I am sure they have more insight as student leaders navigate the issue. I don’t know why some clubs flourish, and some fail to get more than a dozen students. Maybe it’s luck, marketing, cheap wine, or some combination of the three that make these clubs successful. But I think the conversation is one that should be had, amongst fellow officers of other clubs, but mostly with the students who aren’t engaged. A university is what you make of it, and IE offers so much that is not on the radar of too many students.
Featured image retrieved from https://www.ie.edu/uncover-ie/ie-clubs-the-career-boosting-community-that-helps-finance-students-achieve-their-dreams/