Existential Fortune Cookies: Group memory

Opinion by Sebastain Gould
May 18, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

Existential Fortune Cookies: Group memory

One concern that has been brought up in the debate about the Chi Theta Chi lease termination is the loss of institutional memory. This is an issue that affects all of us who participate in student groups and other organizations generally. If you have ever been in a student group at the end of the year, two of the biggest concerns for the next year are what the goals will be and what the group will be like.

Without the recruitment of new members, most importantly from the freshman class, the group can lose its identity. There is also the great risk that the group will die out entirely due to lack of membership.

For XOX, this issue is extremely important. I think we can all agree that there is special value in tying location to identity. By giving members of a group a place to go where they can act and behave in a certain way, where it is not only accepted but even encouraged to act in that way, you are making them feel welcome. That encouragement of shared behavior is essential for developing the habits of character in individuals that will ensure that the character of the group continues.

Community centers on campus are an example of importance of having a physical location for a group. Throughout history, possessing physical space has added to the legitimacy of individuals and groups. The power of physical ownership also helps recruit new members, on top of solidifying the group’s culture.

When a group loses its location, it can lose the pull that having a physical location has on prospective new members. They also no longer have the same ease with which to meet those potential members and current members, and facilitate personal connections. The importance of making personal connections based on your identity cannot be overstated. That is why the loss of institutional memory can be so tragic.

I propose though that there are ways to mitigate that loss. The best and most obvious way is to create a history of the group: Document activities, profile group members and, by all means, try as hard as you can to continue to meet as a group.

]Second, you need to put your name out there so that prospective group members can find you. The loss of location doesn’t have to be the end of the group. While the consequential emotional distress that comes from being displaced is not something to dismiss, people need identity and connections.

While I personally know very little of Chi Theta Chi, I fully sympathize with their predicament. It may be hard for me to relate personally to them, but I fully understand where they’re coming from in their fear of institutional-memory loss, because of my involvement in other student groups. I hope that they are able to come to better terms with the University with regards to the lease in the future, and at the same time keep their identities.

Have you lost an institutional memory? Can’t remember? Email Sebastain about it at [email protected]

Login or create an account