On recruitment and rejection

You were the president of your high school debate team. You are rejected from Duke Debate. 

You participated in your county choir for ten years. You are rejected from every Duke a cappella group. 

You are highly passionate about social entrepreneurship and female-empowerment. You are rejected from the Business Oriented Women (BOW) club.

Next summer, you will work at JP Morgan—a fact unknown to both yourself and the members of the business fraternity who reject you on the basis of your ‘lack of enthusiasm’ for finance during an interview.

Every semester, student-run organizations sift through hundreds of applicants and reject competent individuals capable of thriving in the student groups. This is a problem—and it isn’t about snowflake millennials who can’t cope with rejection. It’s about modes of thinking that distort how Duke students perceive rejection. 

Unfortunately, capacity limitations restrict the number of students admitted into groups, leaving students of all class years feeling dejected in the face of rejection. This sentiment is only aggravated by dubious criteria for admission and a toxic culture of competition that festers the antithesis to an all-inclusive liberal arts environment. 

One highly-involved first-year from Houston, Anna Kasradze, went through the recruiting process for several campus organizations and encountered varying experiences: “I felt that a few [groups] took themselves too seriously, a sentiment that has been echoed by many of my friends.” Kasradze has also learned to downplay the number of clubs she is involved with, saying, “It’s unfortunate when clubs think they understand your availability better than you do.”

At the same time, student groups are cognizant of the importance of finding new members and take this responsibility seriously, as they should. Scale and Coin, Duke’s oldest business society, is an example of one group in which difficult decisions are made to determine who is admitted, as was the case in their most recent recruitment cycle. Through their recruitment process, potential new members are encouraged to befriend as many current members as possible—a process not designed with the introvert in mind. 

Senior Nikita Gawande, a member of Scale and Coin, has recruited and trained four “classes,” or cohorts of new members, and trusts the recruitment system. Ideally, she explained, candidates who attend an information session and a couple events, and meet as many members as possible, are interviewed in order to determine their passion, level of interest in business, eagerness to learn from and add to the group, “and whether or not they’re a good fit.” 

Notably, Scale and Coin does safeguard against potential conflicts of interest; the group is intentional in their efforts to prevent people from joining simply because they are friends with current members, and “the opinion of each [Scale and Coin member] is valued the same in order to ensure fairness,” said Gawande. 

One first-year student who recently went through the Scale and Coin recruitment process, however, was disillusioned by the degree to which subjectively-determined “passion” was important to join what she thought was a pre-professional society. 

No major nor course at Duke teaches students about how to combat implicit bias in their club’s recruitment proceedings. (This issue of broken recruiting processes, by the way, plagues real businesses in the world outside of Duke). Campus leaders are not taught how to select new members with traits that lend themselves to high-performance in the particular student group team, nor are they informed on the merits of qualified and diverse applicant-review committees.  

Therefore, institutional knowledge—that is, what last year’s president of an organization shares with this year’s president—plays an uncanny role in determining whether or not you will receive a “Congratulations!” email from the junior in your 10:05 a.m. class. Some groups like BOW have a name-blind process, whereby applications are reviewed without names, but most other groups do not. 

Furthermore, with a lack of transparency and oversight into deliberation proceedings, a mysterious few determine who gets “cut” versus spared.  “Cut” is the term used on campus to explain when a student seeking to join a selective group is not invited to further rounds of recruitment. It also serves as a metaphor for the feeling when you are barred from an opportunity to thrive.

Ultimately, in addition to transparency, we—as a student body—need to neither fear nor worry over rejection. Rather, we must prioritize inclusion whenever possible. What if Duke Student Government found a way to get the innovative and ambitious first-years who do not get elected to put their ideas to action in a setting outside of DSG? What if the students not selected as Duke Political Review writers were shared opportunities to cultivate their political voices through other groups in search of bloggers?

The reality is that by serving a completely different organization in an entirely different role, a student may gain the highly-coveted skills Duke University Union did not recognize when the student first applied. In other words, students develop and amass various skills at varied paces; student groups—whose members do not necessarily embody the group’s professed values—therefore, are no decent measure of an individual’s abilities.  

Far too often, auditions, try-outs, applications and interviews are viewed as gateways into exclusive networks of high-achieving peers with concrete knowledge and expertise. But in reality, these recruitment proceedings can achieve more in getting an interviewer on a power trip than giving an interviewee a fair shot.  

I say down with toxic selectivity and a culture that idly allows students to associate self-worth with student-group affiliation status. In its place, we must nurture a culture of transparency and inclusion. Generations of Blue Devils stand to gain.

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.

Sabriyya Pate

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.


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