MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- After listening to Middle Tennessee State University student Verinique Bailey, of La Vergne, share the story of why and how she started the I Am Me organization on campus, even I was ready to join.
Unfortunately, I’m not a student or a woman, which makes my membership off limits for a group aimed at empowering female students, boosting their self-esteem and “inspiring the women of tomorrow with the excellence of the women of today.”
But her message resonates deeply with me through the passion in her voice as she tells of starting the group during her junior year in high school before deciding to bring its mission to the Blue Raider campus.
Among its activities, the group conducts mentorship programs and community service projects to assist local nonprofits such as Greenhouse Ministries and the domestic violence shelter, as well as social events “to help our members be comfortable in their own skin,” Bailey says.
Now a college junior with a double major in organizational communication and fashion merchandising, Bailey is proud of her group’s growth in its second semester of having members. Last semester, “I Am Me” boasted more than 70 members among its ranks, exceeding Bailey’s initial expectations.
“The main thing we want to do is impact the lives of these women,” says Bailey, flanked by her group’s pink-themed display of photos, buttons, mission statement and history. That’s why she joined fellow members all sporting “I Am Me” T-shirts inside the Student Union Ballroom recently for the Student Organization Fair.
“I Am Me” was among 64 student organizations that signed up for the fair, which featured a ballroom full of informational booths on a diversity of groups representing interests ranging from student government to music and from faith to fraternities. In all, more than 330 recognized student organizations are active on campus, a healthy number from which to choose for 23,000 or so students.
Jacqueline Victory, director of leadership and service in the MTSU Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, said she was pleased with student turnout at the latest fair, which provides a forum for the student groups to share information with prospective members as well as interact with fellow student groups with whom they may not otherwise connect.
“The reason being a part of a student organization is important is that you meet people with a common interest,” Victory says. “You can make friends and make MTSU, which is a large campus, feel a little bit more like home.”
Students also develop invaluable leadership qualities — conducting meetings, developing a vision, managing different personalities — that will serve them well as they attain degrees and move out into the workforce.
“Whether it’s a professional student organization or the saxophone club, that dynamic will be the same,” Victory says of the skills needed to successfully form and maintain a student group.
Her office counsels the organizations on event planning as well as compliance with university policies and procedures, including requiring a faculty/staff adviser for each group. Bailey says her group’s adviser, Jonell Hinsey, interim director of the Office of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs, has been an invaluable resource in nurturing the group’s growth.
Victory notes that growth in the number of student groups is likely connected to the university’s launch a few years ago of the online directory MyMT, which lists all of the student organizations. It provides yet another way for students to connect with others as they forge deeper ties within the Blue Raider community.