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New Events Calendar: The End of the Ystud?

By the end of this week, the Yeshiva University Office of Communications and Public Affairs (CPA) will unveil a new Events Calendar, run through the university website, that will seek to replace the beloved y-stud emails YU students have grown to love and hate.

The calendar, developed by the events office in conjunction with a small committee of students, presents student events on a central and neatly organized site. The opening page depicts “Featured Events,” providing the date, time, and location of each event, in addition to a short description, all in a smooth new interface that puts the old calendar, which most students have probably never even seen, to shame.

Students have a significant variety of browsing capabilities, with the option to view different categories of events individually. While students can view all events on the calendar, they can also browse by events occurring on the Beren or Wilf campuses separately. Events are also classified by type, as either “Torah,” “Academic,” “Career,” or “Social.” All categories are listed in chronological order, clearly separated by day and date, and present relevant information without needing to follow any links.

The new calendar also allows students to do much more than browse; they can actively engage with calendar and incorporate it into their personal lives in several ways. For each calendar category, students have the option to subscribe through three main functions: they can opt to receive a weekly email, RSS feed, or iCal feed of that calendar’s events.

Students can also focus their activity on a specific event. For any event, they can click “Add to my Calendar,” and are given the options of using Yahoo, Microsoft Office Outlook, Windows Live, Apple Calendar, or Google calendars.

One significant feature of the new calendar is that it affords various options for notification. For one, students can click on “Forward to Friends” to email the event to other students; this function might prove particularly useful for club-heads who can now disperse event information to club members directly through the calendar. The site also allows for several other notification actions including receiving email or texts that remind students to go to the event or to inform them of any changes made to the event. And of course, the calendar offers the opportunity to tweet the event link directly through their personal Twitter accounts.

Though the new calendar’s technical elements are impressive, its backstory of university-student cooperation may be even more striking.

On April 5, 2012, Zach Mammon wrote an opinions essay in The Commentator titled “The End of the Y-stud.” In the article, he argued that people are tired of receiving “cheesy subject lines” from a “merciless barrage of studs…tens, sometimes hundreds of times a day.” He called for the creation of a new site, that would, “much like YUZmanim,” present the “where when and what of upcoming events,” allowing students to     decide on their own which events interest them.

Zach received positive feedback regarding the article, receiving emails from several students interested in helping him develop the webpage. But the most important feedback he received came in the form of a call from Aliza Berenholz, Director of Events from the CPA.

Aliza explained that the Events Office was in the process of developing their own new events site very similar to the one described in Zach’s article. Zach met with Mike Scagnoli, director of CPA, who told him they would love to work with him, as they were very interested in student input. Since then, Zach has worked with Melissa Collins, Events Manager, to spearhead the conception and building of the new events calendar, Melissa on the university side, and Zach representing the students.

The Events Office began working on the new site about a year ago when ITS finally received access to new calendar software necessary to begin the overhaul. Then, after contacting Zach at the end of Spring semester, Melissa met several times with him and a committee of several students to discuss the new calendar’s layout and features.

Melissa and Zach are both very confident in the new system. Melissa focuses on the more efficient system of event submission. In the past, student leaders had to worry whether or not their y-studs would get past the moderator and when the emails would finally reach students. Now, once the event is accepted by the Office of Student Life, it will immediately be submitted to the Events Office and added to the calendar, making the process more streamlined and convenient for all parties. Zach, on the other hand, is excited that students will not be “bombarded with a sea of emails that cause them to lose interest,” but instead have more freedom and choice regarding events.

But some student leaders aren’t as happy with the dramatic shift from y-studs to a new calendar.

Adam Neuman, President of YCSA, said that he was not contacted about the new calendar, neither to request his input nor to notify him of the impending transition, which he found “strange” and “surprising.”

“It’s disappointing to feel out of the loop when we were elected to be in the loop,” he said. “The goal is to make the clubs good and make the campus life good. So you would hope that there would be enough discourse between the administration and the student leaders so that they could communicate such vital information to club heads.”

Adam Zimilover, YCSA Vice President, expressed a similar sentiment saying, “No one was informed about it. The committee of arbitrary people was formed without any student leader or anybody else knowing about it.”

Yosef Hoffman, YSU President, and Gabi Weinberg, SOY President, had also only heard about the calendar through rumors, though they were not as perturbed by the lack of communication.

Mr. Weinberg thought it made sense for the Events Office to oversee the calendar’s development. “The system in general blurs the line between Student Life and student leaders. They’re the ones who officially book all the events. I don't mind them taking care of it themselves, but once its up and running I’d like to know about it and they can ask for help if they need.”

Lack of communication aside, the student leaders expressed concerns about the effects such a quick and drastic shift from y-stud emails to a separate calendar would have on student attendance of events.

Mr. Zimilover seemed most concerned. “I don't think people will ever look at it unless it’s something like a system where people receive a daily emails of events happening that day, with an option to opt-out” he said. “Otherwise I don't think people would go to a separate website to see what’s happening on campus.”

Mr. Neuman seconded that feeling, saying, “I don’t think we should completely phase out the y-stud. To just do away with them could drastically decrease attendance of events, especially when leaders aren’t informed of how it works.”

Mr. Hoffman added, “There’s lots of good stuff, but it’ll be a little confusing at first. It’s going to take time, and YU students don't have that much time.”

But Hezzy Jesin, Director of Student Life who facilitated the transition, was prepared for such criticism.

Regarding student leaders he admitted, “They should have probably known about it, and that's probably my fault.” “We didn't choose the committee,” he explained. “Events put it together. And that’s fine; the calendar needs to work for the general student. Student leaders should have been notified so that they know but, in terms of functionality, it’ll be just as good because the calendar needs to work for Joe Shmo, not student leaders.”

Mr. Mammon focused on the role of club heads in making the new calendar a success.

“It’s all about branding,” Mammon said. “If the student leaders shrug their shoulders it’s not to their advantage because this is what’s going to be used. They have to get on board.”

“I know people are concerned,” he added, “but I think if they spread the word they'll receive the returns with their events being popular. Club heads need to direct members and friends to the calendar and tell them to share it through Facebook. How much detail will they put in the event description? That’s the only way to make people care.”

On the other side of the coin, some students are ecstatic about the end of the y-stud era.

Avi J. Schwartz (YC ’14) recently posted about the year’s first y-studs on his Facebook wall: “I just got a y-stud bomb of 26 emails, two and a half of which I somewhat care about. Hopefully that'll be my last y-stud bomb of the day.”

Upon hearing that he would, in fact, no longer be receiving “thirty emails I don't care about everyday,” Schwartz was relieved, and offered his personal prediction. “There won’t be any tangible difference between y-studs and a calendar; it’ll just be a lot more convenient. Students’ overall feeling will be relief that there’s more space in their inbox.”

David Berger, a Senior majoring in Political Science, sounded a similar note. “The situation has gotten out of hand. My inbox is overflowing and I don't read them anymore. I read them once a week and end up missing the events at the end of the week.”

“Beautiful,” Berger exclaimed when he heard the calendar would be replacing y-studs. “I always wanted them to do that and never understood why they didn't.”

The new events calendar certainly appears to offer students a useful and convenient tool for finding out what’s-going-on-on-campus with the added benefit of opening up space in student inboxes. There are, however, significant challenges it will face, and student leaders are still concerned about the impact this shift will have on attendance of student events.

It looks like y-studs won’t disappear immediately, though; some sort of a transition is in the works, and so there will be time for students to get acquainted with the new system. And what’s more, the Events Office has made it clear that they are open to any feedback that can improve the new calendar’s interface.

For now, we can only await the new calendar’s launch and, perhaps, brace ourselves for the sea of y-studs that won’t be hitting us any more.