York University is often referred to as a commuter school. And while that is true (I am a commuter myself), it doesn’t mean there aren’t a myriad ways to get involved on campus. One of my fondest memories from undergrad has always been attending the Multicultural Week festivities, which run the last week of February. I decided to share with you my experience of founding a student association at York and share our first experience taking part in York’s Multicultural Week.
Choose a Focus for Your Club
It wasn’t until the end of my second year of university that I decided to start up a new cultural student association at York. All the previous Albanian Student Associations had proven unsuccessful (for various reasons), even though York has a large contingent of Albanians. Along with a friend of mine I decided to contact the York Federation of Students (YFS) and apply to become ALBSA, the official Albanian Students’ Association at York. First I made sure a similar club didn’t already exist. After I figured that much out, I had to recruit at least 15 York University students interested in supporting my association. The YFS is home to more than 400 diverse student campus clubs, ranging from cultural or religious associations to hobby, sports, fan and academic clubs.
Be Realistic about What It Takes to Create a Club
Given my experience as an executive on other club teams in the past, I knew that to achieve success, I had to put in quite a lot of work beside my studies and part-time work. We were starting ALBSA from scratch, which meant we needed to create a constitution for the club and to build membership. Holding an executive position in a student club proved a great way to get involved on campus, experience the York spirit and network with upper-year students. I will admit, though, that setting up a cultural association was a lot of work, especially since I am a perfectionist and wanted to make sure everything was done properly.
Plan Ahead and Be Organized
My friend and I spent that summer planning how to execute the grand opening of the club and the future events we would hold. We booked student space once a week during the spring and summer semesters in order to promote the student club. I created an official logo for ALBSA, and paid to have a banner made. Since we were starting afresh, there was a lot of groundwork that I felt had to be done for us to be taken seriously as a club. I printed fliers to promote our first event which was held in August so we could introduce ourselves to the members we had accumulated from our sign-up sheet during our tabling and on social media, and also get their advice on the type of events they would be interested in attending during the year.
We also needed to expand our executive team (from two to six members), and having this introductory event gave other students the chance to see that we were approachable and open to collaborate. As president and vice president of the association, my friend and I reviewed a number of resumés and conducted online interviews to fill the positions of finance director, events and media director, and general assistant. Although the extra help was needed and appreciated, most of the larger responsibilities still fell to my friend and me because we had started the club. After realizing that we were still doing most of the work, we decided after a month to reduce the executive committee to four members again. It was an extremely busy time, and I was dedicating 10 to 15 hours to this club weekly. I had the support of my executives, but when a club is brand new, you really have to set the standard and pace. A piece of advice I would give is to make sure you have a strong and dedicated team and that you have a large and continually expanding membership, or else it will be difficult to keep it running.
Despite some adversity we faced as a group, we all stayed professional and worked to plan, promote and hold a number of great events during the year. After our club was ratified by YFS and the York University Student Centre, we were now able to apply for funding and student space to promote the club. We had a successful but busy year: Our club participated in York Fest in September, bringing us more members; we held a meet-and-greet in October; an Independence Day cultural party at the end of November; participated in four different categories for the YFS Multicultural Week in January; organized a cultural parade in February; and a final year-end event in April.
We even got our own “swag” (clothing and items branded with our student association’s logo and label) created through YFS in the form of T-shirts, water bottles and tote bags.
After attending the York Multicultural Fest for the first three years of my undergraduate degree, it felt incredibly gratifying to finally be able to represent my heritage and participate in the events. ALBSA’s Multicultural Week participation included a variety of activities; I posted pictures below so that you can see some of the action and behind-the-scenes goings-on.
The Fashion Show
The Art Exhibit
The Global Food Fair
What I Learned
I feel proud that I decided to dedicate time to establishing this club during my undergraduate degree because it taught me a lot.
- I was able to manage and coach a team of my own. I improved my time management and organization skills.
- I learned about event planning and how to successfully engage students.
- I gained networking skills liaising with upper-year student club executives and YFS executive members.
- I learned to be a humble leader and a more patient and understanding peer.
- I made great friends that I kept in contact with after graduation.
I can say with pride that three years later, ALBSA is still a growing student association at York University, making all the volunteer work, time and effort I put into creating this student club worthwhile. The foundation I laid created a launching pad for the successive two executive teams to make the club even stronger and more successful. The skills I gained through this experience are also priceless and seem innumerable. If you want to know more about student clubs or on-campus involvement, feel free to tweet me at @yorkustudents 🙂