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A Club for Every Taste and Cause

Student Expo offers cigar aficionados, rugby, and knitting

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The women of 85 Broads: Jennifer Johnston (CAS’10), Alexandra Plassaras (CAS’12), and Shana Richards (CAS’12). Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

A student among the hundreds perusing the offerings at Tuesday’s spring semester Student Activities Expo was confused. She wanted to know if membership in the organization 85 Broads was limited to, well, 85 broads. As president Jennifer Johnston (CAS’10) explained, the professional women’s group was named by female partners at the New York City offices of Goldman-Sachs, located at 85 Broad Street.

With the Metcalf Ballroom reverberating with the din from 100 student organizations plying would-be members with candy, key chains, stickers, drinking cups, and, inexplicably, crayons, misconstruing some of the mostly handmade signs, ranging in quality from print-worthy to ransom note, is more than possible. Is Iron Marrow a heavy metal band? No, it’s a group for students affected by scoliosis. Why is an organization called the MAN Project manned, so to speak, by women, smiling at passersby from behind a sign daintily drawn in pink? And are BU Escorts . . . nah, couldn’t be.

The spring Expo is the more sedate of the two events showcasing student organizations — the annual fall Expo draws between 350 and 400 groups, says Shannon Pittman, an assistant in the Student Activities Office, which pitched the Spring Expo with posters saying “Find Your Perfect Match.” The Expo, which began more than 20 years ago, “is a hands-on thing,” says Pittman, but the University is updating its Web resources to get more students connected with clubs.

Diana Sull (COM’11) and Sunny Lee (CAS’11) want to make people aware of oppression in North Korea.

In its second semester, the fledgling MAN (Medical/Apparel/Nutrition) Project, which assists the poor, has about 15 members who volunteer for good works, like donating cosmetics to women at homeless shelters and painting rooms at Boston Medical Center (the hospital provides the paint), said Meghana Vijaysimha (CAS’12). The biology major helped come up with compelling — she hopes — slogans like “Do it for the MAN.” Wedged in between several well-branded national and international organizations, such as Amnesty International, the Environmental Student Organization, UNICEF, and the antipoverty advocacy group ONE, homegrown organizations like the MAN and the just-formed Liberty in North Korea have their work cut out for them. “Our top goal is raising awareness,” said the Korean activist group’s president, Diana Sull (COM’11). “We did a survey and found that a lot of students couldn’t differentiate between North and South Korea.” They thought the difference was geographical, like North Dakota and South Dakota.

Over at the Iron Marrow table, Joshua L. Wright (CAS’12) explained that he wanted the new organization to conjure images of sturdiness and strength, in contrast with conventional assumptions about people with scoliosis. “We need people willing to make a commitment,” he explained, gesturing toward a sign-up sheet with two signatures. “We volunteer with kids and adolescents.” Iron Marrow’s current membership? “Right now — zero,” said Wright. “I won’t lie to you.”

Margaret Carbery (CAS’11), Yelena Goncharik (SMG’13), and Jacob Schwartzman (MED’13) play the Russian game Preferans at the Russian American Cultural Club table.

One of the many impressive things about the event is its prevailing spirit of inclusiveness. The Women’s Rugby Club, the Culinary Arts and Kitchen Entertainment Club (C.A.K.E.), and the Knitting Club all welcome novices. And according to their respective spokes-students, you don’t have to be an Asian Baptist to join the Asian Baptist Student Koinonia (that’s Greek for fellowship) or Russian-American to sign up for the Russian American Cultural Society. Not only does the society include students from former Soviet republics with a distinctly eastern flavor, like Kazahkstan and Uzbekistan, club president Yevgeniy Maksimenko (CAS’10, GRS’10) explained, many of the 100-plus members of this popular group are in it for the language practice and nights of playing durak (a Russian card game), eating kotleti and pelmini, and sipping tea from a samovar. “We play cards not for money, but for prestige,” he added.

Humanists of Boston University wants you to know that you may be a humanist and not even know it: “Do you consider yourself an ethical, moral person, but you don’t hold supernatural views of the world?” US Students for Justice in Palestine welcomes more Israelis, and, its title notwithstanding, 85 Broads will accept men if they bring a woman along. Spectrum embraces everyone, whether they’re part of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community or not — the club’s annual Drag Ball is a campus favorite. You need not be big and strong to join up with the BU Escorts, who are available nightly to walk students back to their dorms. Mostly, “You’ve got to be nocturnal,” said Escort recruiter Wardell Lee (CAS’13), adding that the tight-knit group of 15 to 30 work-study students is 40 percent female, but he’d like the gender balance to be 50-50. “We also check emergency phones and change light bulbs,” Lee said of the group, which had the best freebies — Escort logo drinking cups and whistles with wristbands.

There are clubs for which a student must pass muster, however. Sororities and fraternities are fair, but selective. Vibes, Boston’s only all-female college hip-hop team, is holding tryouts on February 8. “We’re different,” said Cassandra Aviles (COM’10), Vibes vice president. “We take pride in being an all-girls team and despite what people think, our hormones don’t get in the way of our closeness as a team!” Of the 55 or so women who try out, only 2 are accepted. Campus musical groups such as the Jazz Band and the BU Orchestra understandably expect sign-ups to be a musician already. And it would be just plain strange for someone who doesn’t plan to be a veterinarian to join BU’s Pre-Veterinary Club.

Mark Belzowski (CAS’10) and Adam Waters (CAS’10) are looking for men and women cigar smokers.

If, like Groucho Marx, you don’t want to join any club that would have you as a member, there might be poetic justice in considering the group with a president who cites Groucho, along with Winston Churchill, as his inspiration. “That’s El Presidente,” said Mark Belzowski (CAS’10), head of Cigar Aficionados. The nine-year-old organization inspires “either interest or disgust” among Expo-goers, said Belzowski, leaning back in his chair beside a pair of stogies nestled in a hotel-style ashtray the size of a fruit bowl. “Some people say, ‘Gross!’ Or, ‘Why?’ Or, ‘I’m not an old man,’” he said. “Those are the top three.” At a typical aficionado gathering, “we play poker, we eat, we go to Suffolk Downs, we do everything that goes with smoking,” said the sociology major, who works at the Churchill Cigar Lounge downtown, where members often convene. The club, which has two female members and one on the sign-up sheet, “evokes an older lifestyle,” according to Belzowski, who can’t smoke in his apartment, his friends’ cars, or pretty much anywhere except where he works. “It makes me want to wear a bowler hat.”

More information about student clubs and organizations is available here.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on A Club for Every Taste and Cause

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2010 at 8:08 pm

    I think its fantastic that the Cigar club is finally getting some credit. I attended one of their meetings last March and loved it. Mark Belzowski’s great leadership is bringing the club to places I never knew it would go. He’s a great asset to this community.

  • Anonymous on 02.01.2010 at 5:17 am

    I’m quoted in the article… just a correction there’s about 25-30 escorts

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