Lifting Barriers to Campus Club Entry for International Students

Every year at the 5C club fair, groups of first-years shop around tables, excited to picture their busy college lives based on the clubs they want to be involved in. When I first arrived in Claremont from China, I was totally amazed by how many different clubs are available for students to join. Back in high school we only had a dozen clubs that nobody paid attention to in a country where grades are usually prioritized and extracurricular activities are just not emphasized. Thus, the American college life where students take various roles in campus organizations excited me, even before I came to CMC. However, things did not turn out to be the way I expected.

The barriers are high for international students. The first is psychological: It can be really daunting for a first-year from a different country to do a group interview, nerve-wracking to give a short speech in English, and hard to navigate through different clubs when one does not have any relevant club experiences and has not figured out the 'rules' of networking.

Second, the current club entry system is biased against international students because those in leadership positions are the sole decision-makers on who they want to let into their clubs. In addition to the preexisting qualifications, club leaders often want to recruit people who they can party with. For international students, it is hard to identify with the American culture and build a connection with upperclassmen who run these clubs. Gradually, a lot of the international students will assimilate into American culture and will eventually be able to interact with American students comfortably. The development of such skills takes time, however, and before an international student becomes fully culturally competent, they may not be chosen and then misses the opportunity for personal development through engagement with campus organizations.

In addition to the psychological barrier and the subjective bias, there is also an objective barrier that prevents international students from delivering good performances. On a resumé, an international student may look as qualified as an American student. In an interview, though, an international student may look less confident and outgoing because of stress coming from doing an interview in a different language, a lack of direction owing to the lack of relevant experiences, and a lack of knowledge of the etiquette for an interview in this country.

In many campus organizations, the presence of international students is almost unnoticeable. In the Rose Institute of State and Government, there are zero international students. In Source, a consulting club at CMC, there are four international students this year. Given that international students make up 18 percent of the student body at CMC, the number of international students involved in campus organizations is very disproportional. Sadly, right now, many international students who are qualified for positions on campus are excluded.

I would like to emphasize that including more international students in campus organizations is beneficial for the clubs, international students, and domestic students. Put simply, international students bring in a different perspective. According to a study that was done by McKinsey & Company, ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform companies that are in the bottom quartile for diversity. Through more active engagement in campus activities, international students get more opportunities to bond with similarly-minded people and receive a more enriching college experience. For domestic students, establishing lasting friendships with people from abroad will broaden their horizons and develop cultural sensitivity, which is an important factor contributing to the success of many international business leaders.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask for more dialogue between current international students, club leaders, and college administrators. Emotions and feelings could be shared, consequently achieving a better understanding and a stronger bond in our community. For example, if senior leaders could tap into the emotions they felt while studying abroad, when they felt difficulties due to language and cultural barriers, they would better understand the barriers international students need to overcome and the efforts they have put in to achieve what they have achieved so far.

Second, I call for the inclusion of professors into the selection process for clubs, which which provide a different, impartial perspective and a check on favoritism.

The world is getting smaller. Half of a century ago, it was perhaps unthinkable that one would sit in the same office with people coming from all over the world and have conference calls with business partners who are several time zones away. Since the skill of interacting with people coming from different cultures is becoming increasingly important, it is beneficial for both international and American students to master the cultural skilsl to interact proficiently with people from different backgrounds. College provides great opportunities to practice and acquire this skill. I hope that greater inclusion of international students in campus organizations would make the 5Cs a tighter community—a place where students, regardless of their cultural background, can relish the joys of bonding with others and discover and enjoy the truly amazing experiences of touching the universality of humanity.

Caroline Lu CM ’16 is an economics major. She lived in China for many, many years and London briefly for one year while she was studying abroad at the London School of Economics.

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