By Danni Ondraskova '18
A few weeks ago, brightly colored society spam littered walls all over campus. Wellesley students signed up for open houses in droves, and compared societies to each other like rival sports teams. We knew that every organization had its own distinct character and ideals. We used buzzwords like “community,” “sisterhood,” and “tradition” with reckless abandon. Tea season, with all its connotations of suspense and stress, had arrived.
Initially, I viewed societies with both bemusement and suspicion. The term “society” felt uncomfortably close to “sorority” in my mind. Like sororities, I thought, our societies functioned primarily as elitist party machines that shuttled Prada-adorned women to sketchy MIT frat parties in the dead of night. I had heard they charged their members exorbitant amounts per semester to be among “the cool kids.”
As I researched Wellesley’s societies, this perception made me wary and a little forlorn. Some-where deep within me was the need to be legitimized. I wanted to be one of those society girls, one of those red-lipsticked, well-coiffed members who flashed photogenic smiles and seemed so carefree.
A gulf separated me from that possibility. I’m a full-scholarship kid with acne who spends her weekends working long hours at Bates Dining Hall and nursing her partyphobia.
I don’t belong here and never will, I thought grimly. I started to close my computer.
Then I stopped, my eyes scanning Agora’s mission statement, which is “to promote an intelligent interest in political questions of the day by translating thoughts into meaningful action, and providing platforms for political advocacy.”
I remembered waving fervently at Obama’s motorcade as it sped by and rubbing the sleep out of my eyes when my father woke me up to tell me about Osama bin Laden’s death. I thought of the articles I wrote about political issues for The Wellesley News and the hours I spent reading the news every week. I thought of my passion for the issues of income inequality in the United States and the fragile democracies of Eastern Europe. Agora appealed to me because I knew many different majors were represented in the society, and I craved the opportunity to discuss my passion for politics with Agora members and help plan lectures at Wellesley.
That snippet from Agora’s website made me reframe my definition of a society. I started to see the groups as close-knit communities of intellectually diverse yet open-minded people who weren’t afraid to share their stories and discuss issues that genuinely mattered to them. I began re-visualizing parties as a means to that end. A niche in Agora seemed to carve itself out of thin air, just for me.
So I tea-ed. Over the next few weeks, I went miles beyond my comfort zone (and from my home in Dower, for that matter) as I donned high heels and steeled my nerves. The teas were tolerable. On one hand, I felt vapid and unconvincing as I nodded my head vigorously while other candidates gabbed about shows I’d never heard of. On the other hand, I also met and reacquainted myself with truly incredible women, and enjoyed telling them about my academic and professional interests. Because no one had told us how selective the admissions process really was, I mistakenly thought that I had a strong chance of being admitted because I had the basic qualifications to be in the society.
In the end, I applied. I poured my soul into my application, penning my own struggles and linking them to my vision of Agora as an organization that breaks taboos about racial, political, and economic inequality. I bared the scars I talked to precious few people about—my parents’ divorce, my father’s cancer diagnosis, and my struggle with a learning disability. I wrote my required political project about a lecture that would examine the status of post-Communist Eastern Europe from multiple perspectives. I hung spam about the Agora teas in my room, and often talked to my friends about my application.
That was my pre-Sunday world. I waited for the agonizing decision that day, unable to think about anything else. Finally, a quiet knock sounded on my door. My heart sank as I saw only one dear friend from Agora waiting for me. There was no fanfare, balloons, or cake—this could not be good. Sure enough, I had been rejected. My friend gave me a warm hug and a handwritten letter from Agora. The news stung with finality. You do not meet our standards. You are not one of us. The letter’s vague explanation of this semester being an exceptionally competitive process did not fit with my naïve conception of myself as someone who inherently belonged in the organization.
I Skyped my father, telling him about how I’d put everything I had into the application and could not understand why I was rejected. He showed me how wrong I was in staking my worth on extrinsic judgments I couldn’t control instead of my own character. He reminded me that what societies offer—a sense of community and a forum for discussion about important political issues—can also be found at many Wellesley organizations, including several I was already in. My father helped me realize how fortunate I am to be at Wellesley and studying with some of the most incredible women in the world.
Armed with wisdom and the support of my friends and the Dower community, I ventured into the rest of the week. My RD told me that nearly thirty people applied for Agora this semester, and I was shocked by how ignorant I had been in assuming that my application guaranteed me a spot by virtue of my qualifications. With that humbling realization, I finally put the rejection behind me, even with the realization that there are problems with the transparency of societies’ admissions processes that need to be improved.
I strongly believe that the primary reason I overreacted to my rejection was that I didn’t have accurate expectations of the application process. At no time during the Agora admissions process were we told how many people applied this semester or what previous semesters’ acceptance rates were. None of the society websites listed either of these statistics or show examples of successful applications. None of the websites provide clear criteria for what constitutes a good application. While it would be absurd to ask societies to disclose all their application criteria, even a small degree of increased transparency could go a long way in helping applicants improve their applications and establish a more accurate expectation of their chance of being admitted to a society.
There is a lot of suffering and confusion that can be mitigated by a joint transparency effort from societies. To this end, I have a simple two-pronged proposal: Senate should vote to make all the societies disclose acceptance rates since 2011 (when Agora was reinstated) and post at least one full accepted application online. Candidates would be able to see concrete examples of what kinds of applicants have been successful in previous years and use this application to be somewhat better equipped to predict their fit and chances of acceptance. If society applicants have access to more information about the application process, they will form more realistic expectations about their chances of acceptance.
From March 2015 Issue