Internet helps odd college clubs recruit

If you sent your child to Georgetown University and he joined the Grilling Club, you might think he's busy interrogating fellow students.

But actually he'd be cooking. Yes, the Grilling Club is really about food.

They ought to chew the fat, so to speak, with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Carnivore Club, whose mission is: "To promote dialogue between students of different majors and backgrounds ... over a nice juicy steak."

Meanwhile, at Penn State University, there's the Monster Squad, described as a collective community in which fans of horror films can "interact with others that share their love for these films."

If these sound unusual, just check out a few other campus club lists. The offerings range from offbeat to downright bizarre. And some of them really do invite the question: "What's in a name?"

Though college campuses have always had wacky factions, the Internet makes it a lot easier for potential instigators - er, members - to hook up. Even if they don't provide meeting space or funding, most universities give clubs Web space on their servers and include them in official listings. And for a generation trained to Web browse first, they're more likely to read those lists online and click the link directly to a club's site.

"I think that people are doing a better job of communicating their interests to other people and finding other people who are interested in the same things," says Amy Geist, student groups coordinator at the University of Notre Dame, near South Bend, Ind.

On many campuses, that's crucial to getting official recognition and funding. The 32,000-student University of Pittsburgh, which has 300 undergraduate clubs, requires a minimum of 10 members. While Notre Dame doesn't have a membership minimum, it considers whether a proposed club is relevant enough to merit existence.

The university's 10,000 students support 273 clubs. "We've lost an average of one or two per semester," says Ms. Geist. But for each of the 10 or 15 that died in the past three years, half a dozen have sprung up in their place.

Pitt's student life administrator, Terrence Milani, says the campus easily adds 15 to 20 new clubs each year, including replacements for defunct organizations. UW-Madison's Joke Club, started last spring, grew to 80 members during the fall semester.

To join, students must simply show up. Many are attracted by the club's website, which features a new joke every day.

There's plenty of laughably bad punning involved in club noms de plumes - i.e., Harvard University's Din and Tonics, who perform a cappella "with a twist."

There's also the occasional acronym - although it doesn't always indicate what you might think. At Carnegie Mellon University, there's the KGB.

According to campus newspaper staffer James Auwaerter, the name doesn't actually stand for anything at all. "They generally just do strange sorts of things."

Another group that couldn't resist an acronym is the University of Mississippi's Feral University Rebel Rescuers (FURR).

The group is devoted to preventing euthanization of the campus's feral cat population by trapping, neutering, and releasing the untamable felines. Says Mr. Auwaeter, "Pretty much any interest you have, you can find a club, or start one."

Judy Albin, who oversees student activities at Penn State, points out that universities are supposed to be places where students can explore new interests and experiences.

"If they can't do it here," she asks, "where can they do it?"

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