With Student Council approving new Contracted Independent Organizations every semester, there are well over 700 CIOs on Grounds. The University has made a commitment to cultivate “a vibrant and unique residential learning environment marked by the free and collegial exchange of ideas” and CIOs are an integral part of this mission. These student organizations are not just fun pastimes or things to put on our resumes — CIOs get students ready for the workplace and foster professional opportunities, inspire change in both University and Charlottesville communities and allow students to express themselves. CIOs are more than extracurriculars — they are an integral part of the University’s mission and they serve as excellent supplements to a liberal arts education.
There is no end to what CIOs do for the University and its communities. CIOs encourage students to meaningfully engage with their peers and allow them to explore opportunities that enrich their classroom experiences. In the hundreds of CIOs that exist at the University, students can find supportive communities that equip them with technical skills and a network of peers that will last far beyond their academic careers. For instance, student members of theCourseForum get opportunities to develop technical skills, like coding, that make them more competitive job applicants. The International Relations Organization’s Model United Nations team grants students the opportunity to obtain a more global understanding of politics, think critically about international relations and leverage their negotiation skills to strike deals and find common ground. The diverse skill set students gain from participating in CIOs more holistically prepares students for success in the workplace — studies have found that involvement in clubs and organizations while in college increases students’ hireability to potential employers.
CIOs also cultivate community off-Grounds, supporting Charlottesville residents. For example, the Charlottesville Debate League, created by a group of U.Va. students in 2013, is dedicated to providing students access to free debate and speech programs across secondary schools in central Virginia. Through CIO programs like the Charlottesville Debate League, University students get the unique opportunity to serve those around them and make a profound difference in communities across the commonwealth and in Charlottesville. This sort of community impact provides University students with tangible experience translating their classroom education into practical application.
In a similar vein, CIOs are also places in which students can organize to advocate for social change. The Young Democratic Socialists of America, for example, demanded last year that the University’s resident advisors receive stipends in addition to the free housing and on-Grounds meal plans they are already given. The Black Student Alliance advocates for Black students, works to establish connections between students and the Charlottesville community and conducts political action against unjust policies supported by the University. Most recently, several CIOs engaged in collective protest against an invited speaker who espoused anti-transgender viewpoints. There is no doubt that CIOs serve as a regular reminder that each of us has the capacity to leverage our position of privilege as students at the University to hold our institution accountable and continue creating space for marginalized perspectives.
The independent aspect of CIOs allow for them to do the work, own the credit and give students an authentic voice. Simply put, CIOs make the University’s “vision of discovery, innovation, and development of the full potential of talented students” possible. They are an integral part of student self-governance at the University, too — every student involved in a CIO is participating in this rich tradition of leadership and involvement on Grounds. Take a moment to imagine the University without your favorite CIO or your favorite CIO's annual event — would the University feel the same? Would your experience here be as fulfilling?
CIOs should be celebrated and prioritized because they are not only a vital part of student advocacy, engagement and community-building on Grounds, but they are an integral part of the education we receive as students at this University. CIOs deserve all of the resources given to them — from free printing to table renting for events to actual funding from the Student Activities Fee, a charge included in the tuition we pay as students. As a main source of a diverse, tightly knit, and engaged student body, no one should take CIOs for granted, lest we take for granted the very things that make our time at this institution marketable, enjoyable and impactful.
Apal Upadhyaya is an Opinion Writer who writes on Politics for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.