From the Desk of the Vice President for Student Life
November 7, 2012
Last fall President David R. Anderson ’74 and the three other David Andersons on campus formed a student organization.
The David Anderson Club, as it’s called, automatically enrolls anyone on campus named David Anderson.
I’m not sure what they actually do at meetings, and I imagine roll call can be confusing, but it’s a group that PDA (a nickname that keeps President David Anderson from getting confused with the other David Andersons) warmly refers to in his conversations about life at St. Olaf.
As amusing as that story might be, it reflects a trend that we have seen at St. Olaf over the past several years. A decade ago, we had a little more than 100 recognized student organizations. Today that number stands at 235.
The organizations represent a wide array of interests and include the likes of the Curling Club; Muslim Student Association; College Democrats, Republicans, and Greens; Korean Culture Club; St. Olaf Pre-Law Society; and a personal favorite, the Herpetology Club. (For the uninformed, herpetology is the branch of zoology concerned with the study of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles.)
I’m not sharing this to simply tell you these clubs exist, because you or your student can find this out easily enough by simply visiting the Student Organizations website. My purpose is to look at why they exist in such breadth and numbers.
In short, students crave community. They want to belong and they want to relate to others who share their passions and interests. Sometimes they are outright silly, like the Privateers, a group that claims to want to raise Pirate awareness and culture (and do some community service, too). Others are more serious, like our long-standing student branch of Amnesty International.
Ten years ago we had a single Asian Student Association. Today we have nine organizations that reflect Asian culture. As St. Olaf becomes more diverse, students seek diversity within our diversity — and clubs and organizations are one of the areas where this plays out.
Other kinds of diversity bring new activities to campus, such as Club Lacrosse, a popular group that fields men’s and women’s teams and conducts clinics for local kids. They came together in the late 1990s when a group of students from the East Coast wanted to continue playing the sport they loved at home. Today, as lacrosse gains in popularity in the Midwest, we have a strong, student-led athletic opportunity that provides a competitive outlet for Oles.
Last spring I walked across campus with an alumnus and witnessed a student dressed in a gold cape run by, being chased by another student with a broom between his legs. I thought nothing of it, but got a puzzled look from my guest. “Quidditch?” he asked. “Yup,” I responded. In best Minnesotan form, he responded, “That’s different.”
I’m guessing the lacrosse players, Privateers, Greens, and herpetology devotees got the same response in their day. Some have suggested that the numerical increase in student organizations signals a threat to community, as people congregate in smaller, more distinct clusters. I tend to disagree. Two hundred and thirty-five groups does not mean we are more fractured — it simply means we have more and more ways to come together and, in the process, do meaningful things and simply have some fun.
This, I think, is a good thing.
Vice President for Student Life
St. Olaf College