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By Devika Jamkhedkar (Batch of 2021) and Arpita Wadhwa (Batch of 2021)
The data presented in the article has been accumulated by a survey The Edict conducted on February 25, 2019. Titled ‘Gauging Interest in College Events’, it was sent out to the entire student body and received 174 responses.
‘The Ashokan Apathy’ is a curious phrase, likely to incite dismissing eye-rolls. This liberal-artsy buzzword may seem misplaced, for what campus problems might possibly afflict our Sonipat Utopia? Recent data and personal accounts indicate a debilitating sense of disinterest and detachment. In spite of greater technological connectivity, college newsletters worldwide are concerned about low student turnouts in their biggest events. Ashoka being no exception, there exists an imperative need to cultivate community engagement and impassioned college spirit.
While Ashoka is abound in mafia nights, dog movies and other eccentric get-togethers, it often fails to foster student solidarity. “Ashokans don’t really feel part of a community” says Trisha, a first year. While personal friendships flourish, a cordial feeling of oneness is missing. Low numbers at casual events indicate that students rarely set out to mingle with their batchmates. “Over time, unfamiliar faces grow familiar, not because of interaction, but because the stifling 25 acres makes it easy to come across the same people more often than not”, Trisha attests. This ‘forced familiarity’ indicates a lack of interest in engaging with the larger community, which can dismember the campus ethos.
Skipping a town-hall or scrolling past reminders may seem innocuous, but causes cumulative harm to the Ashokan spirit. For example, publicity for Agneepath 2019 entailed pleading emails sent mostly hours before the matches. The resulting feeble turnout and enthusiasm was a sad shock for most players. “Home support is key in sports”, says former Cultural Minister Arnav Mohan Gupta. “A lack of college spirit is saddening, and many of us were expecting a far better sense of unity”. This is particularly damaging in the face of Delhi University opponents, whose tournaments yield hoards of ecstatic supporters. How can a niche, liberal arts institution like Ashoka seek recognition in the solidified DU circuit when our own voices reek of disinterest? A sense of college unity bolsters its image and reputation, key to establishing a truly distinguished institution.
The recent Edict survey sheds light on the reasons for low turnouts, revealing general disengagement. Aside from the 73.4% not being interested, 43.95% have “more significant plans” and 23.1% simply do not attend for fear of lack of company at the event. This suggests that collective indifference is palpable enough to curb the enthusiastic ones, refuelling the cycle of indifference. The 35.8% who do not believe events ‘“live up to the hype” reflects a worrying disenchantment with the campus life recreation.
Deeper investigation implies that the absence of a distinctly Ashokan tradition causes a void in student culture, that registers as apathy. With only four batches in its history,- campus societies, ventures, and sports squads have not had enough time to create unifying traditions that identify all students. From IIT Mumbai’s Mood Indigo to the Oxford Union, prominent institutions have signature events, adored by the student community. What might inspire Ashokans to gather and celebrate their university? Building such traditions is a monumental responsibility-something that Ashoka simply has not had enough time for.
The drought of community spirit might be an unexpected result of the heightened individualism at Ashoka. The myriad of flourishing clubs provide a stable sense of community for film, animal, baking, trekking, story-telling enthusiasts and more.The popularity of party culture proffers another manner for strangers to meet and form cohesive social circles. In pursuit of their “more significant plans” students tend not to prioritise general university events. The success of ‘Spirit Week’ generates hope, but the need still persists for the fiercely independent Ashokan to resonate with their university.
Various organisations tackle disinterest in innovative ways. According to Arnav, food and prizes at events are crucial for attracting participants. On the other hand, compulsory attendance ensures near-full seminar halls. Online marketing is also an effective strategy to draw in apathetic students. Arnav mentioned that high budget events have elaborate videos including skits to appease the audience into participation. Election commissioner Shashank Mattoo talked about creation of Instagram page and memes to increase voter turnout and described online voting as “…a big gamble that worked out really well.” The necessity for elaborate strategies in this tiny campus exemplifies the calculated coaxing needed for students to engage in important events.
One might argue that ‘student apathy’ is an inaccurate diagnosis, as individual interests are thriving. This is reflected in the constant engagement of students in varied groups- from film appreciation to cycling and beyond. Clubs and ventures prosper on intra and inter college level, sometimes at the expense of general campus unity. While such achievement is admirable, a sense of identity and resonance constitutes an equally important part of campus culture. This desire is reflected in the 68.8% students who strongly identify with being an Ashokan.
Community consciousness should be the collective responsibility of all students, ministers or otherwise. Edict’s survey showed that 80.9% students feel that supporting inter-college events matters; 93.6% feel that it is important to have a reasonable spectator turnout. The jubilance on Spirit Week implies that there exists a spark among students to construct an Ashokan solidarity. As mentioned, there are several things that can be and are being done to increase student engagement- incentives of game prizes, food, quirky bake sales, online marketing and better information about events, but at the end of the day, the onus lies on students to value events that reinforce the idea of an ‘Ashokan.’ In destroying apathy, Ashoka constitutes a community that’s aware of its diversity; one that supports its members, and most importantly, celebrates its existence with pride and exuberance.