Methods: Exercises

"Getting Involved"

After observing a number of narratives about the university there were mission statements and ideas that stood out in my mind, and noteworthy conflicts of ideologies that seem to exist. With this I was not able to discern what I might want to pursue, it was difficult trying to decide what I was interested in and what I felt deserves attention. Ultimately I made a decision, and for better or worse this is what it was.

There seems to be an overwhelming body of evidence and mission statements the encourage students to "Get Involved at Illinois". These ideas are echoed by statements of Resident Student Organizations, the Greek system, campus recreation, sports teams and supporters, even Illinois housing such as dormitories. They all have general themes in mind, that theme is that getting involved will enrich ones life and make one a more diverse individual.

Although I do not doubt that there are possibilities in engaging in stimulating debates and social activities that have no parallel when one participates in such activities. I cannot help but think there seems to be an underlying tone of that, if one does not engage in such activities one cannot feel that they truly belong, or can consider themselves part of the Illinois family.

Even to the extent that the university looks to get students involved in community activities as well as those related to school. I have met current students and alumni who felt that their lives were enriched by participating in such activities, and I have met those who have felt that activities would have had no effect on their lives because they had little recreational time as it is. Even upon entering the university those who live in the dorms are incited to participate in events that force them to mingle with those that they might not otherwise feel inclined to approach and engage in a conversation with. All this is or course on a social level, in the classroom most of us are at a position where we engage with others that we don't know, but get to, although it may be minimal. For some this may be all that is required for their need for social interaction, but they may still walk away from their collage experience feeling that they have missed an important part in their life because they did not get involved.

These many narratives seem to speak such a sentiment, that not getting involved will led to a feeling of "missing something". There are those who do participate because they have a genuine interest, or are coming from laces where they were involved in activities such as these in the past, so for them it is merely a continuation. For some it is a new experience that is offered to them that they may not have previously had access to in the past. I can imagine that there is some that feel that they need to become active in the university, aside for academics, to belong, and feel that they made something more of their time here then just studying.

It may sound at first glance that I am belittling and berating the university and its commitment to getting students involved in events aside form academics. That I can assure is not the case at all, I myself am involved with a collection of groups and activities outside academics. The debate is how, and if these mission statements for activities, makes one feel that they need to participate, and why they feel that way, if they in fact do. And how one gets involved in extracurricular activities inside and outside the university.

The university seems bent on getting students out there and doing something, and perhaps that is what I am looking at. I understand humans are social creatures and that social interaction, and social diversification, is an important part of life and something that all should be exposed to, but should they be made to feel that this is perhaps the first time in their lives that they have this opportunity, one can hope that in the past these students have already been involved with such activities. Either way it is interesting to me to look at the way the university promotes the ideas of "getting involved", and what those different ideas meant to not only the university, but the students as well.

"Krannert Center Student Association"

The first aspect that one notices about the Krannert Center Student Association's (KCSA) self-description is that there is an immediate focus on time–the year that the organization was founded (1969). This reference to time seems to anchor the authority and importance of the organization, although the year 1969 is a tumultuous time, politically speaking, with which to be associated. I wonder if there is a hint of the rebellious in choosing to name the year instead of counting by decade.

Interestingly, the group says it was created "to serve the University and the Krannert Center." The selection of the verb "serve" seems odd, as it has connotations of both hierarchies and obligation–an odd way to attract volunteers in the 21st century. Next, the absence of the word "student" is an important omission. This could mean either the organization wants to signal the larger university community or assumes that the university is a synonym for students.

Moving from absence to presence, I note that in the second sentence there is another phrase that assumes the importance of the organization due to its size: "one of the largest and most diverse student organizations on University of Illinois." Here a reader might surmise that the old adage is in effect–bigger is better. This is also an Ad Populum, better known as an appeal to popularity. That said, the acknowledgement of diversity points out a logic in the text–diversity is an important achievement. The notion of diversity is picked up at the end of the paragraph when we find the claim, "KCSA unites the center, campus, and community by celebrating the many aspects of the performing arts in a world diverse in culture and beliefs." I am struck by the assumption that celebration is the instrument of uniting these three entities; is this what the group really thinks it is doing?

The KCSA then claims to "promote the performing arts on the U of I campus by providing unique volunteer opportunities for student involvement in productions at the Krannert Center." Having worked in the arts, I find this wording very odd; one typically does not promote the arts by giving people volunteer opportunities, as that is the purpose of publicity. Alternately, I know that some arts organizations claimed this was a useful way to build an audience. Interrogating whether this notion of promotion is actually successful or not would be an interesting project to undertake, especially in light of Ewell's article.

The remainder of the text is taken up by the sort of activities that volunteers perform over the course of the year: lead tours, usher performances, work backstage, and produce special events. Here again the theme of service seems strange; either this means that the KCSA understands that visitors to the site/new recruits are already amenable to performing service for the Center, or they believe site visitors would find these duties as appealing. I have some questions here as well, for my experience has made me sensitive to the difficulties faced by the greater arts community in developing new audiences. The statements made by the KCSA could identify some origins of this problem, or they could point to possible ways to improve the situation.

Like the KCSA page, the "About" section of the Krannert Center website begins with a reference to time: "Since 1969, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts has served as one of the nation's premier educational and professional performing arts complexes." I would assume that the rhetorical technique of appealing to an authority of temporal existence is in effect. Unlike the KCSA site, however, there is a more overt focus on education and nurturing behavior: "the Krannert Center nurtures excellence and innovation in the performing arts through education, presentation, community service, and research. Above all, it is a place for education." The valuation of education would appear to be a logical orientation for the Center, but one could make the same claim regarding entertainment, celebration (as noted above), or spectacle. A rationale for education is included in the last line of the paragraph: "Made possible by the generous gift of the late industrialist and University of Illinois alumnus Herman Krannert and his wife, Ellnora, the Krannert Center continues their vision of "education through participation in culture.'" Here I feel that the notion of participation is important, for the Center seems to equate participation through attendance. Such an affiliation between terms and behaviors needs to be examined.

There is a similar parallel with the KCSA page in that the appeal of the Krannert Center is predicated on size: "Encompassing two city blocks, the Center is a stunning architectural achievement." The thinking on both pages is that the size of the organization/space is representative of the value of the activities that it undertakes. There is a bit of irony here, as the Krannert Art Museum cannot make this same claim, at least in terms of physical size. Nonetheless, a brief statement of the Krannert Art Museum's site notes that they possess a "permanent collection of 8,000 objects", so maybe there is something to this rhetoric of size playing through each of the Krannert narratives.

The thematic of size continues throughout the remainder of the piece: "audiences can mingle in the vast, elegant lobby . . . [backstage] along with hundreds of students, faculty, and staff members hard at work. . . . All told, more than 350,000 people each year enjoy the many opportunities this magnificent complex offers." Given these continued appeals to the importance of size, I propose that the intention of these references is to attract audiences through the appeal to popularity. Put simply, there is a logic in place that seems to indicate that one should come to the Krannert Center because going to the Center is a popular activity. Whether or not the attendance figures bear out this claim, and whether this idea of size as valued by the University community is something that needs to be explored further.

"Greek Affairs"

I really did not know where to start in inspecting our university's mythical ideologies as Peter Ewell can or how to analyze texts as does Norman Fairclough. But in cruising through the multitude of university documents for what seemed like an endless amount of time, my interest was finally grabbed when I came upon a link to the university's association of fraternities and sororities, aka Greek Affairs. Every day, it feels as if I am surrounded by college Greeks. This feeling materializes in bits of side conversation heard in the wagon circle of young initiates at the next lunch table, or seeing letters displayed on a hat, t-shirts, and even rumps walking to or from class. I even find myself accidentally wandering into the "Illini Greek" section of a campus bookstore now and then. Despite this close contact, I still consider myself as an individual incredibly ignorant of Greek life on the University of Illinois campus. I mainly pieced together my view of Greek affairs through an amalgam of media portrayal in movies, the advertising of Greek events (such as fall recruitment and after hour parties), and varied degrees of social interaction with individual and groups of Greeks to name a few. And quite honestly, my generated feelings towards interactions such as these have given me a negative impression of Greek Affairs. Through this week's assignment, I thought that I could learn something more that would end some discrimination I have towards college Greeks. But in perusal of the information presented through the link above, I must say I was severely disappointed. As part of our inquiry project, I ask the question: How do Greek affairs present campus fraternity and sorority life? On the welcome page, I notice right away that there is a dearth of information. The introduction takes up a bare third of the page. It is weak and contains very little substance: "Greek Affairs staff serve as advisors for the Black Greek, Interfraternity, Panhellenic and United Greek Councils, as well as for individual chapters. Programs encourage academic achievement, diverse membership recruitment, leadership development, community service, risk management, and sound maintenance of physical facilities." Immediately I found error in this introduction. What do these two statements have to do with each other? What programs encourage these values? Through further inspection of the page, I discovered that these questions remain unanswered. In a way, the page answers my inquiry question through the Fraternity and Sorority Community Mission and Values statement: "As members of fraternities and sororities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, we are committed to ensuring our success as students and invested partners in our organizations through celebrating friendship, leadership, scholarship, service, and social advancement while appreciating the diversity of our member organizations." Yet, once again I ask myself how so? How does membership in a fraternal order lead to any of these ideals? But all that follows in their more detailed explanations of each ideal remains insufficient as one can see for themselves through the above link. Although there is a lack of communication on the part of the online aggregate student organization, U of I harbors, to my understanding, one of the largest Greek communities in the nation. Somehow, interested students are still finding their own ways to these exclusive social groups. Is knowledge about Greeks implicit or am I looking in the wrong areas for information? Is knowledge and recruitment more accessible to certain types of people in say particular social/class/race groups than others? Because I have these questions in mind, I may be on the verge of starting my semester research on this note. How do incoming undergraduates find there way (or not find their way) seeking acceptance on the doorsteps of fraternities and sororities? How and where do they develop their images of Greek life? Finally, does the ideology (friendship, service, academic achievement) presented by the university differ from that of the actual member? Perhaps I will be closer to answering these questions by the end of the semester.

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