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UC Berkeley Press Release

Range of student clubs show off diversity of interests at UC Berkeley

– Students aren't just cloistered in the library or arguing politics at a café once the proverbial school bell rings at the University of California, Berkeley. There are more than 500 student-run organizations on campus, and this fall, in an era of instant communication and extreme sports, a few surprisingly are throwbacks to simpler times.

Think . knitting. And Scrabble. And a fashion club that has members as familiar with designer Manolo Blahnik as they are with mechanical engineering. There's ballroom dancing, figure skating, a fishing club and a herpetology club. One group gathers to contemplate the dazzlingly complex - and ancient - game of Go.

Matthew Gilbert and Albert Wu play Scrabble on Sproul Plaza
Fortified by smoothies and Froot Loops, Matthew Gilbert (left) and club founder Albert Wu face off in one of the Berkeley Scrabble Club's weekly demonstration games on Sproul Plaza. (Steve McConnell photo)

Recognized student groups must register with the campus's Office of Student Life, which provides advisors and facilitates access to campus resources, funding and facilities. The majority of student groups are academic, service or ethnic/cultural, while fraternities and sororities comprise the largest student group with over 2,500 members. Other major areas of interest are politics and social action, professional development, arts and entertainment, sports and religion.

At the Office of Student Life, the diversity is welcome. And each semester brings new groups with new interests.

"We're always excited to see new clubs," said Marcia Riley, the office's director of student group advising and events management.

Albert Wu launched the Scrabble Club this fall after being shocked to discover it didn't already exist.

"I was looking around online for a Scrabble Club, and I was really surprised there wasn't one," Wu said. Now his club has 30 regular members and plans for a charity tournament to benefit groups that address illiteracy in adults.

Like other student club organizers seeking new members, Wu sets up a table in the middle of Sproul Plaza. He's getting plenty of interest.

"People stop by and say, 'Wow! I love Scrabble!' They just hang out and watch. It's a way to escape and relax to get away from the academics of Berkeley," Wu said.

Another newcomer this year is the Crocheting and Knitting Club. Knitting groups have been a surprisingly hot trend among young single women in recent years, having shed their image as a quaint pastime for grandmothers and picked up a reputation for being a hip and relaxing hobby for people caught up in a fast-paced world.

"It basically started out with me and a friend in the dorms," said Elizabeth Dyer, a second-year math and astrophysics major who caught the knitting bug from friends in high school. "Definitely no one in my family knows how to knit. My mom works full time."

Dyer said the UC Berkeley group has about 40 regulars at its weekly meetings, including three men. Like many other student groups, the knitting club has a service element: In addition to making scarves and other items for themselves, the group is making caps for chemotherapy patients at Oakland's Children Hospital and Research Center, blankets to donate to the afghans for Afghans humanitarian organization and pet blankets for animal shelters.

"It does take a lot of time, but I love doing it, being there every week. I'm teaching people a lot of the time, and it does keep me sane," said Dyer, who also belongs to a math club and an astronomy club.

The fashion club, known as Fashion and Student Trends, started last year and has already thrown a fashion show that drew 300 people. The group, with more than 200 members, plans an even bigger show on Feb.12, 2005 that will feature students wearing the work of up to 20 student designers.

"It's a lot of intense work, but it's fun," said group spokeswoman Nikki Cheng, a senior double majoring in mass communications and political science. The twice-monthly meetings cover everything from plans for the show to PowerPoint presentations on fashion trends around the world and sometimes even delve into modern art's influences on clothing.