The toxic culture of overinvolvement at Tulane


Hanson Dai | Art Director

Shahamat Uddin, Intersections Editor

A completely full calendar from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., midday sprints from Gibson to the LBC, and a backpack overflowing with club promotional materials. These are the all too well-known signs of the toxic culture of overinvolvement at Tulane.

Tulane proudly boasts potential involvement in more than 254 organizations on campus. But behind the boast, there is a dangerous cycle in which a minority of students represent the majority of involvement at Tulane.

Most students can quickly name one or two of their peers involved in many different organizations who are major presences on campus. Yet, we see a frightening pattern in which the same students of one organization are the same students involved across all organizations. The students who are in a business fraternity on campus are the same students who are tour guides and the same students who are senators in our Undergraduate Student Government. 

There is, however, a surplus of organizations on campus that struggle with retaining active membership. Multicultural, service and political organizations actively recruit students from all walks of life but fail to attract the substantial involvement they need.

The toxic culture of overinvolvement at Tulane stems from something deeply emotional, intense insecurities many students feel and an institutional failure at effective community building. 

The reason organizations like Green Wave Ambassadors, Alpha Kappa Psi, USG and Tulane EMS are able to retain committed members and pervasive campus influence is two-fold. Yes, because of their core role and purposes as organizations, but truly because of their selectivity.

Looking at recent cycles of membership, GWA accepts approximately 20% of applicants, AKPsi 24% of rushees and TEMS fewer than 8% of applicants. 

The reason these organizations can continue to operate on high selectivity is that Tulane fails at effective community building. The “Tulane community” is in effect merely the aggregate of smaller self-selecting communities. Students who want to be part of their university’s larger community must first find a way to access these selective organizations with the most campus presence.

Being one of the select members of an exclusive community is wildly affirming. Tulane’s culture feeds into the worst of students’ insecurities. With a hook-up culture that prioritizes conventionally attractive eurocentric features, a social culture that favors outgoing people-pleasers and a rigorous academic curriculum that punishes students for underperformance, Tulane students are constantly told they are not enough. 

The more and more organizations that are able to affirm that we are enough, the less and less incomplete we feel. This has drastic impacts on the experiences of Black and Brown students. Our identities are not only a constant battlefield of worthiness and acceptance, but also the targets of purported concern for “racial diversity” on the part of these highly selective student organizations. 

“I feel like I sign up for too much because of the feeling that I have to constantly prove myself,” senior Pritika Sharma, GWA vice president of special events, said. “Having been made to feel like an individual who is taking up space they don’t deserve, overinvolving myself feels like the way to tell people that ‘Hey, I’m here because I should be, and I work hard to be here.’” 

At a predominantly white institution, Black and Brown students are expected to prove themselves to white leadership, prove they belong in a space and prove their qualifications are better than the white students they beat out for those positions — despite a system of privilege and power favoring them.

“Students of color, specifically Black women, over-involve themselves because people do not see us as qualified for the positions we are unless we have double or triple the involvement of everyone else” senior Lauren Gaines, USG executive vice president, said. “I think about the 20+ leadership positions I’ve held over the past four years while maintaining a near-perfect GPA, and I cannot help but think that there’s a white male student who will have jobs tossed at him for doing much, much less.” 

Overinvolvement among students of color can also take the form of something else that many white students will never have to experience — tokenization. As white people continue to espouse the imperative for diverse representation and manipulate Kimberle Crenshaw’s philosophy of intersectionality, their highly selective groups increasingly rely on the minority of students of color at Tulane to prove their organizations are socially aware and “woke.” 

“I was very explicitly told very early on during my time at Tulane that I am being tokenized. I remember being told by people I considered my friends that I got something because of the color of my skin” Sharma said. “This was awful because it threw the feelings of being deserving and having merit right out the door. There are days where even breathing in this space comes with a question and doubt — Do I actually deserve to be here?”

Tokenization is a disgusting pattern of racism that permeates Tulane. Rather than actually giving Black and Brown students a voice, the institution of Tulane will often use its already white leadership to make initiatives about students of color and just add their names on them at the end. 

“Tokenization is the pressure put on marginalized communities to give a stamp of approval on projects and ideas that they were not consulted during the creation and conceptualization of,” Gaines said. “This is very prevalent in school-wide initiatives and programming. There are many spaces where marginalized voices are either not being included or not being centered or heard if they are present.” 

Highly selective spaces at Tulane that seek representation in leadership from students of color will overburden these specific students, asking them to speak on behalf of all people of color, pushing them into other spaces or simply giving them responsibilities that warrant a full-time paid position. 

“Once you dip your toe into the pool of leadership at Tulane, you quickly sink into this pool of noticing everything that’s wrong with Tulane and how marginalized students are affected, which makes you want to do as much as you can to make your peers feel as comfortable as possible,” senior Sonali Chadha, former USG director of the diversity and inclusive excellence committee, said. 

While highly selective student organizations like AKPsi and GWA are taking strides to combat the toxicity of overinvolvement at Tulane, there is a fundamental cultural issue at Tulane that amplifies students’ insecurities and creates a context in which students of color are consistently overpressured. 

The world is so much bigger than Tulane. Yet, our campus culture communicates to students that their worth is a function of arbitrary acceptances into highly selective organizations. If Tulane truly wants to become a community of support and inclusion, it should begin by understanding the pervasive effects this culture of overinvolvement has on students.

*Shahamat Uddin is a member of TEMS and GWA and was formerly a USG Senator.

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