“It really does function like a cult”: WHS DECA behind the scenes

Image from author.

WHS DECA presents itself as a paragon of extracurricular success, their Instagram account is plastered with triumphant students holding the coveted “glass” (DECA dialect for the shiny, acrylic trophies presented to top performers at conferences) and at Club Rush in the fall you’re sure to see DECA officers in their official-looking polos luring in more freshmen. 

Boasting the most members of any club on campus, DECA provides students with innumerable benefits that go beyond what they can learn in the classroom. From networking opportunities to leadership development, DECA can be an excellent way for students to gain valuable skills and experiences that will help them in their future careers. At conferences throughout the school year, students compete against other high schoolers from the Bay Area, state, and ultimately around the globe in events like “Hospitality and Tourism” or “Entrepreneurship,” evaluated in categories like roleplay and written tests. Furthermore, as members of DECA, students have access to a range of resources and a trained support system of officers to help them develop essential skills like public speaking, problem-solving, and teamwork. These skills are essential for success in any career, and DECA provides an environment for students to develop them. Charan Rameshkumar, 2023 Chapter President, shares “through DECA I’ve really been able to find my leadership style, I’m able to open up more and I’ve improved my speaking and presentation skills.” 

This prolific club’s internal culture however, has a history that is marked by stress and toxicity. Past WHS DECA officer anonymously remarked that the club “felt like a toxic environment. Even though DECA bolstered my college apps, I’m not proud of the people I surrounded myself with while I was a member.” Questions regarding the club’s integrity evoked different reactions from a variety of current members. Senior Rohit Mamidipaka admits that the judging process at conferences is “a DECA-wide problem” after explaining that dubiously appointed volunteers, sometimes even parents, serve as judges of student performance. Other members were much more straightforward about their grievances with the organization claiming that the club is “all for show” or that it “really does function like a cult surrounding Mr. Wu (the DECA advisor) and the officers.” In response to widespread accounts and complaints of advisor favoritism, Charan defends that it is “impossible to have favoritism in a club this large.” 

Examining the inner workings of this club has proven to be a daunting task. Many would-be whistleblowers were reluctant to share their experiences with me, fearing backlash from club leadership and members. In my eyes, these requests for anonymity speak volumes about the nature of DECA but according to current officers, the club is moving in a positive direction as they fight against the tide of hypercompetition that is a hallmark not only of WHS DECA, but much of the Bay Area. DECA hopes to implement change and create an environment of positivity for the future of the club.

Ava Paine is a current senior at Washington High School; this is her first year at The Hatchet. Born and raised in Fremont, she is interested in reviewing local restaurants and books. Ava is varsity captain of the girls tennis team, participates in varsity cheerleading, and is president of WHS Interact and WHS Model UN. In her free time she loves to bake, take care of her houseplants, play with her labrador retriever, read, and listen to Taylor Swift. In the future, she hopes to study international relations or law.

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