Editorial: Pijan awards meant to build community, now restrictive instead

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A lack of inclusivity is something the University frowns upon here on campus. The extracurriculars you take part in or what you do with your free time is not a cause for ostracism at Case Western Reserve University.

That’s why the requirements for two of the Dr. Dorothy Pijan Student Leadership Awards— “Outstanding Club/Organization Member” and “Outstanding Club/Organization Officer”—left us disappointed again this year. Both are only for individuals that are in clubs that are members of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) or the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC). For those unaware, the Student Leadership Awards are an annual tradition at CWRU wherein individuals or organizations get recognized for various criteria.

The Editorial Board believes that this change to the two awards’ criteria ignores the complex structure of extracurriculars here at CWRU and fails to give a chance to those that do amazing things outside of USG.

Originally the UDC, which consists of groups that used to be a part of USG until last semester, was not included. The Student Leadership Awards recognized the issue at hand with UDC, and amended their original rules to include UDC members as candidates for the individual student awards. However the goal of the exception to UDC was to be more inclusive. We wonder why the inclusivity stops with these two groups.

After speaking with USG President Chippy Kennedy, it’s clear that USG did not push for umbrella-group-specific awards; they were not involved in the decision making and aren’t necessarily opposed to including the other umbrella groups.

There are also still many opportunities for non-USG groups to get recognized. There is even a specific award for people or groups related to diversity (Dignity of Difference Award) and for those involved in community service (Group Community Service Award). We encourage you to nominate a group or person you think is eligible by the Feb. 21 deadline; this is a great opportunity to show recognition for someone you think has shown outstanding qualities. While these awards existed before the recent change, their continued presence shows a strong commitment to recognizing important groups that are not part of USG or UDC.

In fact the Student Leadership Awards are a great way to recognize those individuals with whom we go to class everyday and the versatile organizations that exist on campus. Dr. Dorothy Pijan, who created the awards in 1986, served as Director of Thwing and Student Activities from then until her death, committing 21 years of service to CWRU from 1982-2003. Pijan’s career path focused on student unions, and she created the awards due to her love for leadership in students.

It is reasonable to change the awards, but only if that’s in the best interest for students and organizations at CWRU. Glancing at the recent changes made to award prerequisites, it’s clear that this is not the case. The two awards’ criteria were changed for last year, spring 2015. Before that, in 2014, specific awards existed for clubs that were members of USG, UMB, Residence Hall Association (RHA), Greek Life and others. These awards went from recognizing the diversity of the many organizations at CWRU to only acknowledging those that happen to fall under USG or UDC.

Another way to realize the degree of exclusivity these changes inflict is to compare how much money umbrella organizations spend. This semester, USG and UDC combined will spend less than a third of all money spent on student activities at CWRU. Another organization, University Program Board (UPB), will spend the most, slightly over a quarter of total expenditure. Back in 2014, there was an award specific to UPB. If combined with the rest of the student organizations not meeting the award’s criteria, the group would represent about two-thirds of activity expenditure at CWRU this spring, however no individuals within these organizations will be recognized.

Calling these awards by their original names doesn’t make sense. The names incorrectly suggest that the winner and nominees are from any organization, not just from USG or UDC. A quick solution is to simply change the names officially. For example, “Outstanding Undergraduate Student Government or Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative Member ” should replace “Outstanding Club/Organization Member.”

The Pijan awards should include organizations that are not part of USG or UDC. Inclusivity would better celebrate the student body’s achievements. By providing a variety of awards to recognize leaders from groups large and small, the campus would support all endeavors instead of just a few.

Awards are an opportunity to bring us together as an all-inclusive community. Other organizations shouldn’t be removed from awards for CWRU students. With these changes, instead of a community recognizing its great members, we would simply become apart from each other, celebrating our own achievements from the inside. And that doesn’t seem very community-driven.

Just as we need to be realistic about what an award doesn’t mean, we need to be thoughtful about what exclusion mean. Moving forward, the awards should be changed to be more comprehensive of all clubs and organizations. This spring, they won’t be all inclusive in eligibility and their criteria need to be changed. The awards should remain honest in that they are not recognizing everyone.