When Alex Adler founded UC Berkeley’s Rally Committee at the turn of the 20th century, he did so as a safety precaution — or more specifically, as a way to reduce the number of unsanctioned bonfires that took place before the Big Game. It’s unlikely that Adler would have imagined how his organization might grow.
Donning its iconic blue and gold rugbies, the Rally Committee’s presence on campus is difficult to miss, whether the members are spotted tabling on Sproul Plaza, hosting a rally in San Francisco, cheering on various sports teams or teaching a DeCal on school spirit and traditions. In particular, the Rally Committee, led by new chair Claire Robbins, a campus junior, has been gearing up for one of the university’s biggest events of the year: Cal Day.
If you’re looking to interact with the Rally Committee on Cal Day, you won’t have to go very far. Not only will the committee be hosting a noon rally, but it’ll also set up OskiLand, a kid-friendly oasis with activities such as face painting and Frisbee. Members will also be tabling, and the director of traditions will give a spirit presentation. When it comes to effective planning, Robbins emphasizes the importance of delegation, spreading out responsibilities among the group’s various directors, publicists, cannoneers, treasurers and more.
“There’s a lot of hands on deck,” Robbins said before expressing gratitude for the extensive notes, records and information maintained by the committee since its founding in 1901, which helped in clarifying what’s worked (and more importantly, what hasn’t) in terms of the committee’s various commitments. “It takes a lot of people to keep the machine running.”
If that to-do list doesn’t already seem daunting, there’s an additional feature to this game plan: Robbins will only have held her position as chair of the committee for exactly a week. The same goes for the fellow members of the executive committee. While she admits that the experience can be “intimidating” and “overwhelming” for some, fortunately, the committee’s former executive members do their best to be “really present and very helpful” so that “no one is alone.”
According to Robbins, the Rally Committee hasn’t made too many changes to its Cal Day lineup over the past few years (other than retirement of a “giant inflatable Oski” that never could quite stand up straight). But one thing has changed — the makeup of the committee’s membership has diversified considerably. More women have taken on leadership positions, and the members have expanded their priorities beyond simply satisfying the ambitions of the dedicated sports fanatics in the group. Instead, the group has pivoted toward getting the UC Berkeley community excited about the school’s long history and numerous traditions.
But, Robbins admits, this shift in focus is at least partially driven by the fact that sportswise, there’s simply less to be excited about right now. With a 7-6 record, the football team didn’t draw as much attention to games this season as it may have in years’ past. Interestingly, this has impacted the Rally Committee in other ways as well — its membership has suffered. It’s an effect compounded by a less-than-seamless transition from the committee’s recruitment strategies for Cal Student Orientation, known as CalSO, into a new format for Golden Bear Orientation. It’s also a trend that Robbins hopes to reverse during her tenure as chair.
“I am hoping to see an increase in our membership because it has slowly dwindled. We’ve done a very good job of recruiting to the best of our ability, but it is so dependent on Cal football.”
When it comes to recruitment, Robbins believes an important aspect of convincing prospective members to join is highlighting the committee’s role in promoting school pride. And that’s why events such as Golden Bear Orientation and Cal Day are so important — they’re the perfect opportunity to get people excited about UC Berkeley.
Robbins’ pitch to prospective members looks a little something like this: “We’re making sure that all the traditions of game day run smoothly. If sports aren’t necessarily your thing, we’re also very involved in learning about the spirit and traditions of the university. … Our goal as the Rally Committee is to not only get you excited about athletics but to get you excited about our university and give you pride in being a student at Cal.”
The committee has one more selling point: the potential to be a part of a close-knit community. Despite having a fluctuating membership of 200-400 people, Robbins explains that for those who are looking to invest their time in the committee, “that community is really there for you.” And really, that comes as little surprise — with a to-do list as long as the Rally Committee’s, there’s likely no shortage of bonding time.