Low student involvement and lack of advisor puts yearbook in the shadows

As of the 2017-2018 academic year, the yearbook The Shadow will be discontinued. Former members and advisors attribute the decision to a lack of interest from students and concerns over the sustainability of a printed yearbook.

By Megan Lupo

For 95 years, the yearbook The Shadow has been a staple of the Rider community as a way to preserve the memories of each graduating class. Yet as of this year, it will be discontinued.

After the 1982 edition won first place for the second consecutive year in a Columbia Scholastic Press Association competition, the then-advisor Thomas Simonet said, “With the last two yearbooks winning the top national award, I hope we have established a tradition of fine yearbooks that we can continue this year in volume 60 and thereafter.”

The tradition would last over 30 years after his statement.

“Rider made a decision to discontinue the printed yearbook beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year,” Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg said. “The question of the relevancy and sustainability of a printed yearbook arose at the beginning of the academic year when we were faced with an absence of student leadership for the yearbook production as well as an absence of an advisor for the student organization to support the production of the yearbook.”

Simonet, who served as advisor for 18 years, said his role was during the “heyday of yearbooks.”

The Shadow, 1980.

Winning the national competition back-to-back in 1981 and 1982 was “so exciting” to Simonet.

However, by the time another advisor, current university photographer Peter Borg, took over in 2000, the popularity and long-lasting promise of The Shadow decreased in a trend that was unable to recover.

Borg, who stepped down from his voluntary position in 2017, said, “I recall many years ago when we couldn’t provide a position for every student interested in working on the yearbook. But in the last few years, less and less students were interested.”

When senior digital media major Emily Row joined the yearbook in September 2016, she was inspired by her involvement in high school and her hobbies of writing and photography.

Row became editor-in-chief the following year, but her experience was difficult with the lack of students.

“The first year I did it, we had about five people,” Row said. “My second year I had hired 12 people — four writers, four photographers and four graphic design people,” Row said. “Unfortunately by the time the year came to a close, I only had about four people left. I don’t think the others anticipated the workload. They wanted it to be more relaxed and fun, but when you’re putting together a 120-page book, you have to work hard.”

While Borg had an enjoyable experience, the overwhelming workload had a negative effect on Row.

“I loved doing it in high school. Our teacher really let us make our book,” she said. “At Rider, it was much more restricted, and our administrators were not afraid to go in and erase all of our work without even telling us. There was poor communication between the administration and the staff, and it was unbelievably stressful. Unfortunately, it made me dislike something I once loved.”

The administration provided most of funding for the yearbook with only minor revenue made from advertisement sales, according to Borg. The yearbooks were given to seniors as a complimentary gift if they took their senior portraits. Less than 20 books total were sold to those who wanted an extra copy during Borg’s 17 years.

Despite the attempt for more student awareness, hope of The Shadow persevering faltered dramatically for both those working for the yearbook and the rest of university members.

Simonet said, “We were on a high plateau when I was doing it. So it was probably during [Borg’s] times that the support and interest declined. I know he found that a great problem was keeping the staff interested. He didn’t want to do all the work himself.”

The Shadow, 1979.

When discussing whether to cease the yearbook, Borg contributed historical context about The Shadow’s production but left as an advisor before the decision was made. Borg resigned to spend more time with his family after almost 20 years in this position.

Fenneberg said it posed too much of a challenge to replace Borg.

“Unsuccessful attempts were made to locate another willing faculty or staff advisor,” she said. “Faculty and staff advisors to student organizations volunteer their time, and it is difficult to recruit an advisor for the yearbook, given the significant time demands of this position.”

Because of Borg’s departure and lack of student involvement, Fenneberg had tough conversations during the fall 2017 semester with a team of representatives from Student Affairs, Marketing and Communications, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The ultimate decision to terminate the yearbook was made last month, according to Fenneberg.

Although she and the rest of her group asked students for their opinions on whether the yearbook served purpose, “the decision was primarily based on whether the yearbook was sustainable in its current printed form, so students weren’t directly involved in the decision because, although some students may say they want a yearbook, we determined we didn’t have sustainable and supportive resources to continue to produce it in the same way.”

The Student Government Association (SGA) claimed it was not consulted during this conversation.

SGA President and senior English major John Modica said, “As with all things the university does, though especially pertaining to student organizations, I would hope we would have insight.”

Reactions to The Shadow’s cancellation have been mixed.

Senior psychology major Ashley Leeds said, “Yearbooks are tangible and special memorabilia that allow students to look back and reflect on their experiences and memories of college. This physical acknowledgment should not be discontinued.”

The Shadow, 1979.

Sophomore finance major Samantha Gambino disagreed. “I believe this gives Rider students the opportunity to explore newer traditions as the years go on, such as Cranberry Fest, Relay for Life and I Love College,” she said.

Since students were never notified of the yearbook distribution anyway, Fenneberg said, “There was no formal announcement planned regarding its discontinuation.”

Borg attributed the decline in yearbook interest to students using social media sites like Instagram to document their college memories, adding that some students won’t notice the yearbook no longer exists.

“These digital platforms now provide students with a new way to document and express their college experience,” he said.

Fenneberg echoed this statement, saying that the rise of digitalization within the past decade had a significant impact on the outlook of the yearbook.

The Shadow, 1977.

“The shift to digital and social media — in our own personal and professional lives — as well as on college campuses, causes us to rethink needs and ways to deliver information and facilitate community. A printed yearbook has served that need for many colleges and universities for a long time,” she said. “The discontinuation of the printed yearbook doesn’t negate the need to promote a sense of community and tradition at Rider. It just proposes we shift the way we achieve that goal.”

One of the options for the future was exploring “digital photo archive accessibility options in lieu of the printed book.”

Simonet is skeptical of those plans and asked, “Who’s going to maintain that website so that in 10 years, 20 years, it’s still up and running?”

Although Simonet doesn’t see how the tradition of the yearbook could continue with the popularity of social networks, he is still disappointed that a once-highly acclaimed yearbook is officially obsolete.

“It would have been a true mark of shame back in my day if the university discontinued yearbook. It meant a lot to me to get one when I graduated from college,” Simonet said. “It is sad to see any tradition die. It’s something that has gone on since 1923. That’s sort of sad that record is being lost.”

 

Printed in the 3/21/18 edition.

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