Businesses like Amazon shouldn’t be at the Student Activities Expo

Only student groups should have spaces at the event


Collegian file photo

By Joe Frank and Anthony Mulligan, Collegian Columnist and Correspondent

A person dressed as a penguin stands on a table and flails a snowboard. Nearby, someone with a bow and arrow tries to get your attention. Under the sprawling tent on the Haigis Mall, it seems that everyone is yelling. No one would blame you for feeling overwhelmed by all of the stands and students around you. You’re at the Student Activities Expo, the University of Massachusetts’ semiannual fair to showcase student clubs.

The Expo is supposed to be a place to “promote your RSO [Registered Student Organization], meet new people and check out the variety of student groups UMass has to offer,” according to the description on Campus Pulse of last semester’s Expo.

Yet, if you happened to attend the Expo last week, you may have noticed tables for Peter Pan Bus Lines, Amazon, Huawei and Central Rock Gym. Non-student businesses like these are by definition not RSOs, which begs the question, why were these companies there? The Expo is not a space to learn about for-profit companies, it is a space for student groups to promote themselves. After all, it’s the Student Activities Expo, not the Pioneer Valley Businesses Expo.

It is not a surprise that these businesses want to table at an event attended by thousands of students. The presence of these companies at the Expo, however, takes away time and attention from actual RSOs, which are fundamental to the UMass community. Imagine how boring college would be without Greek life, Sweets & More, the Cannabis Reform Coalition or any other student group.

Sweets & More is a prime example of a community-based RSO. Like Peter Pan or Amazon, it is a business: it provides a service for students at a cost. Unlike the other businesses, Sweets & More is also a student-run non-profit and acts as a hub for the UMass community. Whether offering administrative work experience to its student employees or hosting events, Sweets & More actively engages with student life. Huawei and companies like it may offer important services to students, but they are not run by students and do not add to the UMass community.

This gripe may seem trivial. Is it really a big deal if a few non-student companies set up shop at the Expo? After all, what’s wrong with spreading awareness of the different commercial resources available for students? Many of these businesses provide goods and services that are important to student life, like textbook delivery, laptops or rides to and from campus. Additionally, local businesses like Central Rock Gym can offer students the opportunity to engage with the Pioneer Valley community in ways that UMass can’t.

Yet we mustn’t forget that the Student Activities Expo is not meant for non-student businesses. It is meant for student organizations, which do not have the same financial resources as for-profit businesses. For many clubs, the Expo is a vital way to recruit new members. For outside companies, it is just another chance to promote their brand. The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, for example should never see its table relegated to the sidewalk while Amazon gets a coveted place under the tent.

How were these non-student businesses able to get a table at an event supposedly reserved for RSOs? The answer is unclear. We emailed Student Activities and Involvement, the group that runs the Expo, to ask them how businesses were able to secure spots. At the time of publishing, we had not received a reply. We do not know how for-profit businesses were able to sign up as RSOs.

Although daunting, the Student Activities Expo is one of the best ways to discover exciting student groups. But for-profit businesses have no place there, and it is the responsibility of Student Activities and Involvement to keep those businesses out. After all, the Expo is meant for eager archers and penguin people, not Amazon and Peter Pan.

Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

Anthony Mulligan is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]