Here’s the thing about Six Flags. Six Flags is a lot of fun. There are gigantic roller coasters with in-your-face names like Raging Bull and Iron Wolf, roller coasters that take you up, down, upside down, sideways, backwards, standing up, sitting down, legs hanging, flying up, up, and away to pure, adrenaline-fueled ecstasy. However, it turns out that finding, waiting for and riding on these roller coasters takes a bit of a toll on the old freshman body.

    It’s not an experience that is easily followed up, five hours later, by building compost bins in a garbage dump in the rain.

    Here’s the thing about SCAPE. Unacronymized as Serving Communities and Promoting Engagement, SCAPE transforms newly arrived NU freshman into a volunteer workforce, then sends that force out to do work that needs doing.

    SCAPE is a great idea.

    Wait, strike that. Any idea that involves running all over Chicago and Evanston doing truly hard volunteer work mere hours after riding the American Eagle backwards can’t be considered great.

    So it’s a cool id-

    No, that’s not right either. Freshman welcome schedules are full enough as it is. The only thing we could offer up in response to the endless stream of people asking us how we were doing during Wildcat Welcome was to talk about how insanely busy we were. The seven-day nonstop icebreakerfest was more like boot camp than college orientation. So adding another exhaustive item to those personalized schedules, already overflowing with campus tours and faculty advising sessions, isn’t cool, either.

    Fine. It has potential.

    But that potential was not met. Mayor Tisdahl’s Convocation speech about the greatness of the previous day’s service rang as hollow as a Paula Abdul critique of an “American Idol” performance. All I could think about was shivering in a Steak N’ Shake for two hours while we waited for the bus to come pick us up (the kind people at Evanston Recycling Center allowed us to stop working when the light drizzle threatened to turn into an ungodly tempest). I’m sure my classmates similarly found themselves unable to shake images of used heroin needles piled up in a park, or of waiting in the rain for cars to come get washed.

    The rain sucked. No one could have planned for that, and no one should be blamed for that. They can be blamed for how overwhelmed the specially designated SCAPE peer advisers were (often just as surprised as us lowly grunts when informed of what work we would be doing), how our Evanston beneficiaries didn’t always know what to do with us and how the service didn’t always seem meaningful. (The only thing worse than shivering in a Steak N’ Shake after watching big rats run at you in the rain is shivering in a Steak N’ Shake after watching big rats run at you in the rain, knowing you didn’t really do anything.)

    I kind of like the idea of SCAPE. Service rocks, and there’s plenty of opportunity around here for it, especially in the city. Plus, scrapping it now would send out all kinds of bad ‘admission of defeat’ signals.

    Rain can be overcome. Now that we know the possibility of rain is real (very, very real), make sure students are aware of that possibility and maybe have them bring sweatshirts or ponchos. Make more contact with our beneficiaries so that both they and the advisers are clear what work needs to be done. Make sure that work is meaningful. Obviously, some students will be calmly shelving books in a library while are others are getting down and dirty, but that can’t be helped. As long as the work has an impact, it’s okay if the difficulty fluctuates a little (especially as you compare registration early birds to procrastinators).

    SCAPE sucked. But it doesn’t have to suck. It just needs some serious work. So don’t go strutting about like this was some great day of service until you work out all the kinks.



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