Ariel: is it time to jump ship?

Maureen Darras

Contrary to what the piles of yearbooks in cabinets and under coffee tables in the union would suggest, Ariel, Lawrence University’s yearbook, has a history of publication that spans back farther than the 1970s.
No conclusive evidence has been found (albeit, I haven’t looked very hard — the last time I rummaged around in the junk heaps of LU history I found a picture of what Sage looked like before the construction and was miserable for the rest of the day), yet records suggest this yearbook has been around for at least a century.
A quick search on The Lawrentian’s Web site pulls up the following headlines: “Many roles available on the Ariel staff” (9/20/01), “Tropos and Ariel face funding crunch, publication perils” (2/7/03), “Ariel and Tropos woefully underfunded” (2/21/03), and “Ariel struggles to continue yearbook tradition” (2/25/05).
Presumably, if The Lawrentian Web site dated back farther, I would have come across a few headlines that read “Ariel under-produced: students wanting multiple copies protest lack of availability!” and “Lawrentians battle on Main Hall green to determine eligibility for leadership positions on yearbook staff.”
Many Lawrentians, however, have met my faith in the yearbook as an institution with overwhelming cynicism and apathy. Campus sentiment is not surprising, given the equal number of headlines that chart the fleeting triumphs of Ariel:
“Ariel, Tropos set for this year’s publications” (5/17/02), “Ariel staff welcomes new faces” (9/20/02), “’03 Ariel offers free distribution, improved design’ (11/21/03), and ultimately, “Ariel back in business” (5/19/06).
Yet as many students have likely failed to notice, the Ariel is not currently in production for the 2007-2008 academic year. Though the club was still in operation last spring, members disbanded over the course of the summer.
This short-lived attempt at resurrecting the yearbook evidently fits with the cycle of interest in this student publication.
The widespread use of digital cameras, coupled with the ongoing influence of Facebook, has made documentation of college memories a personal, social and instantaneous experience.
It appears that Ariel is facing its most formidable opponent yet: its potential readers.
In the past, budget concerns and insufficient staffing have created a number of obstacles in the publication of the yearbook. Most recently, the yearbook was produced, however shabby the quality may have been, in abundance. The excess yearbooks were given away freely at residence hall front desks. I still don’t know many who bothered to pick up a copy.
The LUCC Steering Committee has taken a special interest in resuming publication of Ariel, and has high hopes of returning dignity to a publication with such a turbulent history.
While they have managed to find a group of students extracurricular-hungry enough to partake in this venture, a fundamental change in the reputation of Ariel on campus should be the primary initiative — not the hopeful end result of directing much-needed funding towards restarting a book that will be used as a door jam or paperweight, if it is lucky enough to leave Raymond House at all.
Thus far, the absence of Ariel this past year has gone unnoticed. The lack of publicity about its discontinuance certainly isn’t helping.
If Lawrence University is interested in reviving student publication and interest in Ariel, the students need to be involved in the process, first and foremost through an open dialogue about why we, as a student body, no longer desire a permanent record of our time here.