Campus Connections

Minority Affinity Groups

Campus Connections

College campuses offer a full slate of resources that might further an a cappella group’s artistic accomplishments and exposure. Who should your group reach out to? How? What do you have to gain? Campus Connections is here to answer those questions.

This column is targeted specifically toward collegiate a cappella groups, though some of the principles and ideas we discuss may transcend that sphere and be useful to high school and non-scholastic groups as well.

In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: minority affinity groups.

During my junior year of college, I roomed with buddy Will. In a strange twist of fortune, despite being an ostensibly white man with western European roots, he was enamored with Asian culture—an active member of the Chinese student union and a practitioner of martial arts who decorated his side of the room with a Bruce Lee poster and assorted East Asian paraphernalia. Meanwhile, despite my half-Chinese heritage and blatantly Chinese last name, the most overtly Asian thing that I did was to eat my Chinese takeout with chopsticks rather than a plastic fork. Without fail, when I had a visitor to the room who didn’t know Will, he or she would assume that his side of the room was mine and vice-versa.

My roommate was one in a small percentage of students who saw across cultural and racial lines to embrace cultures that he just happened to be interested in, regardless of his own background. I say all of this to get at the point that, regardless of your a cappella group’s racial or ethnic composition, there can be a lot to be gained from reaching out to minority affinity groups on campus.

Minority affinity groups are typically in place to provide support and opportunities to socialize and network for students who might otherwise feel underrepresented or marginalized on campus. Students who do not belong to the minorities represented may be predisposed to steer clear of groups like this because they don’t feel that they will fit into them, or are concerned about the potential to offend someone else.

Just the same, students who engage with these groups—provided they do so with respect, humility, and a willingness to listen—are often surprised at how much perspective they can gain from the experience and the understanding that they walk away with, not just regarding the experience of fellow students who belong to that minority, but also themselves.

I say all of this not so much as a public service for people to see what they can learn from minor affinity groups and their events, but also to set up the value for a cappella groups networking with minority affinity groups. It’s easy to say that your a cappella group is open-minded and inclusive; it’s much more challenging and enriching to actively seek out opportunities to perform at events that minority affinity groups might put on, as well as to actively raise awareness of your group and recruit for future members from these organizations. Not every organization will end up being a perfect match for your group, but you may be pleasantly surprised with how wide an untapped audience and potential new member base exists out of people who may not have felt comfortable coming to you, because they don’t already see their brand of diversity represented within your ranks.

Think broadly about whom you might connect with on campus, and don’t be afraid to build a relationship with minority affinity groups.

Student Media

Campus Connections

In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: student media.

Building relationships with the media is one of the most important connections for any a cappella group seeking an audience and seeking exposure. At the collegiate level, whether it's your school newspaper, TV station, radio station, magazine, or other outlet, campus media tends to have a foothold at colleges--an established name and audience. When you build a relationship with the media, you're setting yourself up for exposure and publicity within your local community on a scale that it's much more difficult to build on your own.

One of the biggest benefits of working with a newspaper is that it affords you space in writing—people are forgetful and having something concrete to look at and transcribe your group’s name, and performance or audition times and locations to make sure they’re getting the details right and can remember them. Moreover, when you get coverage of one of your events in print or on a website, you have a testimonial to refer to later to document your group’s accomplishments and refer other people to someone’s thoughts on your group, beyond the group’s own PR work.

Working with the campus TV station can also help spread the word about your work and document performances. Moreover, TV stations can afford you opportunities to have people with good equipment and a specific set of skills record and polish a performance, which can be great for archival purposes and even for getting performance out on YouTube if you don’t have anyone skilled in production within the ranks of your group.

And then there’s radio. When push comes to shove, a cappella is an aural form, and taking a step away from the visual elements that live performance and videos call attention to, performing on campus radio can be an excellent way of getting your music, in its most distilled form, out to an audience. Moreover, throughout my own undergraduate experience, two graduate degrees, and working on a college campus, I’ve consistently been surprised with just how often people actually do listen to the campus radio station—thus, you might be reaching a larger audience through this medium than you would originally expect.

You may also want to consider massaging relationships with campus media. While I’m not suggesting you should try to bribe anyone, offering free tickets to shows, free CDs, even free t-shirts can be an effective way of wooing attention, and getting campus media to notice and remember your group’s efforts.

There are those a cappella groups that prioritize their art over their exposure, and that is a perfectly natural place to fall, particularly at the scholastic level. That said, for groups that are seeking to build their audiences and recognition on a grass roots, local level, there’s little better way of getting started than to make the most of campus media.

Mascots

Campus Connections

In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: mascots.

At colleges across the country, and particularly at big universities with at which there is a pronounced sports presence, there are few figures more recognizable than the school mascot. Whether it’s Big Red at Western Kentucky, Otto the Orange at Syracuse, or Puddles the Duck at the University of Oregon, these figures are inspirational, lovable, and nothing if not some of the most recognizable personalities on campus.

Making a connection with your campus mascot opens up all sorts of possibilities for publicity. Perhaps the mascot will be willing to take a picture with your group for Facebook, or wear your group’s t-shirt at a small event. In either case, having the mascot affiliated with your group is a magnet for attention.

To take things one step further, there’s a history of groups actually working with mascots on performances. This can be as simple as having the mascot stand outside the performance to help lure in audience members, or as pronounced as the mascot actually taking part in the performance, getting on stage to rouse some extra cheers and, in some cases, even participate in the choreography and make for an unforgettable performance.

Weaving a mascot into the scheme of you’re a cappella group—however briefly and to whatever degree—is like getting a celebrity endorsement. It will draw more ears to your product and make for one of your most entertaining performances.

The Athletics Department

Campus Connections

In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: <b>your school’s athletics department</b>.

I’ve never been a jock by any stretch, and throughout high school and college I remember having the misconception that scholastic athletes got a disproportionate amount of attention. It wasn’t until I looked more objectively that I discovered, while sports teams may have more institutional support than the arts in terms of funding for equipment and transportation to events, they often suffer from very real challenges when it comes to attendance and recognition within their institutions. Yes, particularly at major universities, the football and basketball teams get attention, but what of the gymnastics, track and field, or wrestling squads? With a small handful of exceptions, these talented, hard-working athletes tend to be underappreciated by their peers and larger campus communities.

A cappella groups that reach out to the athletics departments or specific teams at their schools access the opportunity to cross-pollinate audiences. Given how much is going on at a college campus and how busy college students, faculty, and staff are, it can be a real struggle for anyone to promote sheer awareness about your events. Therefore, it never hurts to garner an extra source of publicity. What if tennis team is plugging you’re a cappella group’s on-campus performances, just as you’re promoting their on-campus matches? Just by getting the word out, you can likely bolster the audiences for each other.

In addition to publicity, sports events have a time-honored tradition of opening with a performance of the national anthem. Particularly at big universities, singing the national anthem in front of large crowds at major events can be an outstanding way of getting your group’s name out to thousands of new listeners. If you’re not sure how to get one of these slots, don’t hesitate to reach out to the administration at your school’s athletics department—more often than not, they’ll be eager to spotlight artists from the campus community. In addition to major performance opportunities, it may be little less gratifying to have the chance to sing in front of a dedicated audience at smaller events.

There’s a stereotypical depiction of sports and the arts being at odds with one another on college campuses. Break down those walls, and take advantage of all of the opportunities to cross-promote and perform in new venues!

Res Life

Campus Connections

In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: res life.

Over the last century, the student affairs field has emerged at colleges around the world as a support structure, beyond academics, to help students feel safe, supported, and nurtured outside the classroom. What started as a field that was ancillary to academics has become a vibrant part of college life as people, particularly in the United States, increasingly look at colleges less as trade schools that will feed into particular careers, and more as opportunities to grow as whole people—yes, earning degrees, but also learning how to live as independent adults and coexist with others.

Residential life is one of the crown jewels in the student affairs crown, not only providing housing to students, but providing programming and resources for students who live in campus housing. Given that so many colleges and universities mandate that students live on campus for at least their first years, you could argue that residence life has become an auxiliary piece of the core curriculum in higher education.

So what does all of this have to do with a cappella?

As someone who had his first full-time job working in residence life, I know firsthand that residence hall staffs are always on the lookout for programming opportunities that will build community and otherwise enrich the residential experience. So, if a cappella groups connect with residence life. It can set up an excellent opportunity to perform for a captive audience (after all, they won’t even need to go outside to attend your show) and many residence halls have programming budgets through which they might even be able to pay you. As an alternative or additional option, the residence hall staff might be interested in making the event an educational opportunity, too, thus you might get some invaluable, informal experience as a clinician talking about the craft of a cappella, or delivering a lesson on how to beatbox.

On top of reaching an eager audience in the residence hall setting, connecting with residence life can be an excellent way of bolstering awareness about your group. Lots of college students—particularly first years—are beholden to their residence halls to make them aware of opportunities to socialize and engage with their communities. Thus, performing in a residence hall opens the doorway for you to grab the attention of people who might become your fans for the next four years, or better yet to recruit singers who may not have otherwise sought out opportunities in a cappella.

Collaborating with your school’s residence life program opens opportunities to connect with your school community, potentially get a paying gig, and boost your brand awareness on campus. It’s a wholly under-utilized resource, available at a majority of contemporary college campuses.

Student Government

Campus Connections

This column is targeted specifically toward collegiate a cappella groups, though some of the principles and ideas we discuss may transcend that sphere and be useful to high school and non-scholastic groups as well.

In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: student government.

As a college undergrad, I was the editor of the campus newspaper. Early in my tenure, our humble publication had a tenuous relationship with student government. The governing board was perceived as arbitrary and controlling—compelling our organization’s leadership to attend meetings when we were already busy, and insisting on strict guidelines for how we spent the money we had generated via ad revenue.

In short, the people around me—and to be fair, I, myself—looked at student government as the enemy. In time, however, I came around to seeing the potential if we were a little less contentious and a little more collaborative.

I’ve heard from any number of college a cappella groups that resist officially affiliating themselves with school government out of a fear of losing control of what their group can do, taking on unnecessary extra obligations, or simply because they’re daunted by all of the paperwork associated with officially registering their group. To be fair, I can’t speak for the situation at every school, and I’m sure that working within student government is more onerous at some institutions than others. That said, in those cases when groups can align themselves with a larger governing body, there are often some very real benefits.

First and foremost, being an official school organization typically affords an a cappella group better access to resources. This may include funding via mandatory student activity fees, the ability to reserve rehearsal or performance spaces, and greater access to publicity opportunities (for example, some schools only allow registered student organizations to hang flyers in high profile locations around campus).

Working with student government may also open new performance opportunities. Student organizations put on events all the time, and you may be surprised how many would love to have live entertainment, but don’t know how to go about booking it, or don’t think they can afford it. Performing at other organizations’ events can be a great way of spreading awareness about your group, in addition to the potential for some modest extra income.

Finally, even if your a cappella group doesn’t see fit to officially connect with student government, it may find opportunities to still build relationships with student government so that your group’s name will still come up with people are looking for live performers. This may mean reaching out to government leadership to establish a relationship or even unofficially promoting student government campaigns and initiatives at your shows, in hopes that the government will return the favor when you need an extra hand.

Student government tends to have a significant amount of influence and access to resources on college campuses—a cappella groups that can find ways to connect and collaborate with governing bodies therefore have a great deal to gain from nurturing these relationships.

Minority Affinity Groups
Student Media
Mascots
The Athletics Department
Res Life
Student Government
Dancers
Other A Cappella Groups