At the beginning of every semester, Speedway and West Mall transform into sidewalk gauntlets. Before walking down these stretches, students suit up to enter a verbal war zone. Hoods up, headphones in and eyes locked on the ground, they side-step a vortex of shouts of “try this,” “buy this” and “join us.”
Pedestrians view these tablers as annoying. Tablers view the pedestrians as rude. Both sides forget that tabling is a two-way street.
In the battle for students’ attention, tablers and pedestrians should negotiate a peace. Tablers want to advertise and get new recruits for their organizations. Pedestrians want to make it on time to class without feeling harassed. A little politeness on both sides would go a long way toward making peace.
“I’m walking down (Speedway and West Mall) because I have somewhere to be, and to have multiple organizations coming at me can be a bit overwhelming and honestly annoying,” marketing junior Zayda Lopez said.
According to the Division of Student Affairs, those are the most congested tabling areas on campus. The University of Texas has more than 1,300 student organizations. Imagine just half of those groups fighting for your attention on your way to class. You’d never get there on time.
“All student organizations in good standing can table on campus. They are not required to make a reservation,” said Susan Buckenmeyer, director of student activities.
Feelings on both sides are often casualties of this battle for students’ time.
“People make the mistake when they’re tabling of being too aggressive,” said Taylor McKeown, rhetoric and writing junior. “They don’t want to get sucked in and talk to you for 20 minutes.”
Students who successfully make it through without getting stopped can feel guilty for being rude. Students who are nice can get cornered and feel like chumps.
On the other side of the table, literally, student organizations stand outside all day in the heat or rain to make their point. To some, rejection can feel personal. Ignoring them is like saying you don’t like them or their group.
Biology sophomore Jordan McKenna tabled last spring for a student government campaign. She said she used to feel annoyed by tablers, but she now has an appreciation for their difficult job.
“People might ignore me even if all I said was ‘hi, how are you?’” McKenna said. “I sometimes hate it when tablers talk to me or try and reel me in, but I at least acknowledge them from now on, or even try to see what it is they are so passionate about that they want to stand around the UT campus talking to strangers about it.”
McKeown, who also tabled last semester, serves as the president of the Texas Sweethearts, a spirit group that recruits through tabling. She said pretending you can’t hear them or see them can be hurtful.
She offers a subtle yet effective suggestion: Tablers should respect people’s space and take a step back.
Let’s save the aggressive sniping and guerrilla marketing for the Fortune 500s. It makes students uncomfortable.
Tablers should make eye contact and smile first, and then let interested pedestrians come to them. The more welcoming your first encounter, the more comfortable and malleable your audience is. Politeness is, after all, the best form of persuasion.
On the other hand, pedestrians should be polite in declining. A smiling no thank you takes one second. It’s quicker, kinder and less effort than pretending you can’t hear. A wink and a nod for both sides.
Laughead is an LAH and journalism junior from Houston.