Delayed CityDays sees lower turnout

Organizers say moving the event from Orientation week negatively affected student participation

While previously a community service event involving only freshmen and some upperclassmen leaders during Orientation week, this year’s CityDays was publicized as a service opportunity for the entire undergraduate and graduate community and took place on Oct. 9, the Tuesday of the long Columbus Day weekend.

CityDays was formally removed from the Orientation program this year, a change recommended by the Review Committee on Orientation (RCO). The RCO, commissioned by Deans Chris Colombo and Daniel Hastings PhD ’80 to investigate all parts of Orientation, concluded that the spirit of integrating freshmen into the MIT community should extend past the designated week of Orientation. Pursuant to this goal, the RCO recommended that CityDays take place outside of Orientation week so that the whole campus could get involved in the community service. The committee also recommended cutting CityDays because it was not an activity or program “critical or fundamental to an orientation based on national research.”

While the intent of the RCO when rescheduling CityDays was to increase participation around MIT, the overall turnout was negatively affected. In previous years, around 600 freshmen signed up during Orientation with about 200 upperclassmen acting as group leaders for the program. This year a total of 189 students, only about half of whom were freshmen, represented 42 teams and worked at 13 different local community organizations. According to Pratyusha Kalluri ’16, one of this year’s organizers, they planned for about 300 people to sign up and about 160 to participate.

Jemale D. Lockett ’14 noted that there were “not as many freshmen who knew what CityDays was. Because it was more group-based, more upperclassmen participated.” Lockett — who has participated in CityDays since his freshman year and worked this year on an 8 a.m. shift — said that “the atmosphere felt sort of dead.”

This year’s program focused on the idea of competing groups, a change from previous years in which mostly freshmen participated in unaffiliated groups. Participants were divided into four leagues: FSILGs (fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups), residence halls, athletic teams, and other (groups that could be formed on any other basis other than those already specified). Groups within each league volunteered in the “ServeOff,” a competition to gain the most participation from each group in which the winner would receive a $400 grant from the MIT Public Service Center that could be used to fund future community service projects or to donate to a specific charity.

“Removing CityDays from Orientation definitely negatively affected the program,” said Dorian A. Burks ’14, the other organizer for this year’s CityDays. “Having CityDays later, and with everyone already having their own schedules, there was less of an opportunity for student leaders to step in.” In general, the planning for CityDays took place within a shorter time: “I was hired in July and Dorian was hired in August when, in the past, planning for the Orientation CityDays started at the beginning of the summer,” said Kalluri.

In its inaugural year as a “ServeOff,” this year’s winners of the $400 grants were: Kappa Alpha Theta (FSILG), New House (residence halls), Women’s Swimming and Diving (athletic teams), and the Freshman Urban Program (in “other”). Katalina J. Sher ’14, the service and philanthropy director of Kappa Alpha Theta, said, “We are going to invest the money into our service budget for the semester, which is used to register for future community service events. If we don’t use that money for the semester, we plan on donating to our philanthropy, the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, a group that supports advocates for neglected or abused children.”

While volunteer numbers did drop, feedback polls from CityDays indicated positive results overall. Burks added, “Even before CityDays this year, organizations have emailed me and asked for CityDays and how they loved working with students. This year, they said the students were very enthusiastic. Students have really enjoyed their organizations and would like to go back to the same organizations.”

“Looking forward, we are planning on having an IAP community service day, which is open to the whole of MIT,” continued Burks. According to the current CityDays website, the Public Service Center will be hosting a Spring semester version of CityDays that may include lectures from faculty members or leaders of community service organizations and also incorporates both a service and educational aspect.