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When tradition means competition

In the past week, fourth-year Commerce student Christopher Smith has administered not one, not two - but 69 interviews for the University Guide Service and Resident Staff.

"It took a lot of energy," Smith said. "It can get really exhausting."

While this may seem just like a lot of talking, such application procedures are common for joining organizations around Grounds.

Notoriously selective organizations, from a capella groups to Resident Staff to the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, have clearly-defined procedures for choosing new members and only accept a small number out of their applicant pool.

Adjusting to the University's competitive nature is the hardest part of the first-year student transition. Smith, a Resident Assistant, has watched his residents try to get involved in various groups.

"I've seen my residents suffer through the procedures," Smith said. "They were used to being at the top of their class, and now they have to start all over. Everyone here finds their niche, it just might take a little longer to find it here than at other places."

So is it worth it?

According to Psychology Prof. Darren Newtson, competition is not always a bad thing.

"There are two kinds of relationships in groups: cooperation and competition," said Newtson, who teaches a class on group dynamics. "Competition is a destructive element, unless it is in the context of a strong cooperative element. Fortunately, there is a room for both."

But competition becomes a negative influence when it fragments a community or causes strife, he said.

"When group boundaries are fixed and long-lasting, you provoke hostility across groups," he added. "We talk about diversity, but that needs to mean membership not in just one group, but in overlapping groups."

Newtson attributes much of the competition here to the "big school atmosphere." He said in recent studies that looked at behavior settings, researchers discovered a significant difference between student activity involvement in large high schools versus small high schools.

While large high schools offer more activities, students in small high schools tend to participate in more varied activities where involvement is less selective.

For students in a big school, Newtson claims "the solution is to go out and start your own club."

Some students, such as third-year College student Mazen Basrawi, have found the tedious application processes for various organizations to be discouraging at times.

"There's a lot of competition at this school," said Basrawi, a senior support officer for counsel for the University Judiciary Committee. "You get in here, and then you have to apply to get into everything, which is really unfortunate. Then, [the organizations] only get the really ambitious students."

The most commonly employed method for acceptance into a student group involves a written application, an interview, or both. Each organization establishes a process that fits its needs, taking into account the size of the applicant pool.

The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, an organization that provides special programs for the University, such as a speaker series, annually receives anywhere from 100 to 200 applications for a "probie" class of only 30 to 40. Interested students are asked to fill out a card outlining their personal information and extracurricular interests, which is followed by an interview.

According to Jonathan Carr, fourth-year College student and resident of the Jefferson Society, while there are so many applicants, members of the society attempt to keep the process as fair as possible.

"We try to quiz the applicant to see how well they hold an opinion," Carr said. "I don't want to make it sound daunting. It's a very personal process, but the hardest part is the interview."

Carr said a considerable amount of time is spent selecting new members simply due to the considerable student interest in joining the group.

"The Jefferson Society is one of the hardest groups on Grounds to be a part of," Carr said. "It's the only CIO that's not an honor society that goes on a student's transcript."

The University Guide Service, an organization responsible for giving both admissions and historical tours, holds try-outs each semester, with about 150 to 200 signing up each semester to be considered for about 23 new spots.

Almost every current Guide is involved in picking the probie class by critiquing the applicant's 15-minute Lawn tours and conducting interviews for those called back. A numerical scoring system helps rate candidates.

Like Carr, Smith agrees that despite the time invested in interviewing a large group of candidates, the process is essential.

"The interview manages to make the process very human," Smith said.

Acceptance to the Residence Staff is also competitive. With over 240 members, Residence Staff are selected by taking a test and then participating in a series of two interviews. Like the Guide Service, all those in the program have a part in choosing new RAs and RCs.

Esther Adams, fourth year Education student and co-chair of the Resident Staff program, believes the program is among the most competitive groups at the University.

"It's definitely a highly-selective process because the job is such a serious responsibility," Adams said. "We want to offer our residents as good an environment as possible."

Students even compete for living space. A space on the Lawn as a fourth-year is considered by some to be the highest honor for dedicated service to the University through involvement in student organizations. This year, approximately 250 rising fourth-years filled out applications for 48 rooms.

This was the largest number ever to apply for the Lawn rooms, making it especially difficult for the 35-member Lawn Selection Committee to choose new residents.

Carr, also a member of the Lawn Selection Committee, noted the high qualifications of all the candidates.

"At least 80 percent of the applicants were incredibly talented," Carr said.

With so much competition at almost every angle, many may wonder how much competition is healthy for college students.

"People who compete successfully in college tend to seek out more highly-competitive jobs," Newtson said. "Competition in college gives people a chance to figure out how comfortable they are in such a competitive atmosphere."

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