The Club Scene at Lewis & Clark
April 28, 2009
The campus community has an amazing array of campus student organizations–nearly 100 at last count.
Lewis & Clark has an amazing array of campus student organizations–nearly 100 at last count. Club themes include academic pursuits, sports and recreation, multicultural perspectives, social justice, religion and spirituality, student media, and many more. “There’s a club for students to explore almost any interest,” says Jason Feiner, director of student activities. “And if students don’t find what they are looking for, they have the freedom to form their own club.”
Feiner, who has worked in student activities at colleges large and small on both coasts, says Lewis & Clark’s campus scene is distinctive for its variety and openness. “There’s nothing cliquish here,” he says. “The students take their involvement very seriously,” adds Feiner. “They’re committed.”
The campus clubs can enhance what students are learning in the classroom, or just give them an opportunity to let off steam by learning to hula, rock climb, juggle, or make music. What’s more, students learn real-world skills through their activities: how to manage a group, how to lead a meeting, how to organize a major project.
“We support the academic mission,” Feiner says, “and we give students valuable experiences to prepare them for their lives beyond Palatine Hill.”
Serious Improvisational Comedy Club
Brad Jonas is serious about comedy, serious enough to start an improv club. The soft-spoken junior says he surprised himself by taking the initiative as a first-year student to start a campus comedy troupe.
With about 15 regulars, the club is thriving, holding twice-weekly practices and regular performances around campus for audiences of better than 50. On Halloween, members went around the neighborhood trick-or-treating–the tricks were improv sketches performed right on doorsteps. The neighborhood welcomed the fun, “which made us all feel better about going out trick-or-treating in our 20s,” Jonas says.
Prior experience is not a requirement; most members have never done improv before. “Anybody can be funny,” Jonas says. “All you have to do is relax and let loose.”
Improv can seem like no-holds-barred comedy, but the humor grows from set games that give the players themes and scenes to play around with. A cardinal rule of improv is that players never say no. As Jonas explains it, if during a sketch someone points to your shoulder and asks what that parrot is doing there, you never deny the presence of the parrot. You go with the idea, wherever it takes you.
Learning to say yes, Jonas says, “opens up so many opportunities for exciting things to happen–and laughter, that’s the best part.”
If, while strolling across campus, you suddenly hear the rousing chorus of “Katyusha,” a World War II–era Russian love song, you can bet the Russian Club is having a sing-along.
The club, about 20 students strong, meets regularly to share a passion for Russian language and culture. The group’s activities range from hosting the Russian-language table in Fields Dining Room, to screening Russian movies weekly in the basement of Miller Center, to cooking pirozhki dumplings and playing a card game called durak, which translates to “fool.”
The club is interested in outreach, too; last year some members visited Kelly Elementary in Portland, a school with a Russian immersion program, to perform a comic skit called “The Enormous Turnip” for the students there.
The Russian Club’s big event, however, is its annual New Year’s party, held just before winter finals. The students gather in Tamarack, dress up as traditional holiday characters–Father Frost, Snow Maiden, Baba Yaga the witch–and feast on black bread sandwiches, honey cake, and kvass, a mildly fermented beverage made of black or rye bread, of which club president Danya Spencer admits: “You either love it or hate it.”
“Everybody has a great time whether they speak Russian or not,” says Spencer, a sophomore. “My roommate came and she doesn’t speak a word, and she thought it was great.”
You don’t have to be Hawaiian to join the Hawai’i Club. In fact, only a quarter of the club’s members come from America’s 50th state. But participants are fine with that, because their top priority is to get more people connected to island culture.
“Our mission is sharing the message of ‘aloha’ with the Lewis & Clark community, and anyone who’s interested in that can join,” says club president Jeff Casebier, a senior from the island of O’ahu.
The Hawaiian word “aloha” means love and is commonly used to say hello or goodbye. But it really encompasses the welcoming spirit of the culture, and that message is alive and well at Lewis & Clark.
The club’s signature event is the annual spring lu’au, which this year celebrated its 18th year at Lewis & Clark. The lu’au is the biggest student-run event on campus, drawing up to 800 people to watch Hawaiian dances such as kahiko and ‘auana.
“There’s a lot of meaning that goes into the dances,” says Lisa Tsubouchi, a junior who is one of the event cochairs. “It’s really important to know what you’re doing and why.”
The club, with about 50 active members, starts planning for the lu’au as soon as school starts in the fall, and the students take their responsibilities seriously, arranging and rehearsing every detail of the event. They also incorporate elements of Tahitian, Maori, and Samoan culture into the festivities, which take place in Pamplin Sports Center.
“When people come in the door, we want to break down cultural stereotypes,” Casebier says. “It’s all fun and done to entertain, but we also try to educate.”
Students Engaged in Eco-Defense
Rachel Young became an eco-activist as a new student at Lewis & Clark. Her epiphany, in fact, came at opening convocation in 2007, when she heard Eban Goodstein, professor of economics, deliver a passionate call to action about global warming.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is an opportunity to do something big,’” Young says.
The sophomore got involved helping to revitalize SEED, a longstanding campus “green” student group involved in activities ranging from organizing voter-education drives and demonstrations to planting community gardens. This spring, SEED organized the first-ever Eco-Olympics, in which student residence halls competed to reduce energy consumption. The winning hall was treated to an ice cream social with President Tom Hochstettler.
SEED’s focus is not only getting out its message, but also encouraging grassroots activism on campus. The group’s main challenge is getting busy students engaged and empowered.
The group also extends its reach beyond campus, participating in the Cascade Climate Network and traveling to Washington, D.C., in late winter for PowerShift 2009, a national youth summit devoted to global warming and the environment.
“There’s a wide range of people involved in the movement,” Young says. “We can’t just be focused on tree-loving hippies. These are issues–the environment and climate change–that affect everybody who lives on earth.”
When Nicole Pampanin chose to attend Lewis & Clark, her grandmother wanted to make sure of one thing: was there a campus Hillel?
At the time, the answer was no. Although the college had a Jewish Student Union, it was not affiliated with Hillel, an international campus network of Jewish college students begun 86 years ago at the University of Illinois. So Pampanin, a sophomore, set about helping to start Greater Portland Hillel, which includes students from Reed College and Portland State University.
In its first year, Hillel is already making an impact, bringing together Jewish students from participating campuses. The students hosted a Passover seder in Templeton Campus Center, attended by more than 200, as well as get-togethers for Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. The group also held a drive for a local food bank, organized a candlelight vigil for peace in response to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and planned an event for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Having a Hillel community “gives Jewish students an opportunity to come together,” Pampanin says, noting that she has made friends at other campuses whom she would never have met otherwise. “It’s an opportunity to see things from other perspectives.”
Ultimate Frisbee: Bacchus and Artemis
To cynics who don’t regard ultimate Frisbee as a “real” sport, junior Kelsey Colpitts has a simple suggestion: play.
“A lot of people see the pickup games and they think it isn’t that hard or intense,” says the captain of the women’s team, called Artemis, after the Greek goddess of the hunt.
But by the end of a competitive match against rivals like Oregon State or Reed College, “I’m just destroyed. At the same time, you feel so good afterward. You’re tired, but you’ve played your heart out.”
Lewis & Clark’s men’s and women’s teams compete year-round in major tournaments (an annual highlight is the Trouble in Vegas Tournament), holding their own against teams from much larger colleges and universities.
“We work hard,” says senior Mitch Towner, captain of the men’s team, Bacchus, named for the Greek god of wine. “But we don’t take it too seriously.”
While the sport is relatively simple to learn, getting good demands dedication. There are no tryouts to make the teams, and the squads welcome all comers.
Ultimate Frisbee embodies some of the best qualities of intercollegiate athletics and sportsmanship. The athletes are laid-back, yet competitive. They hold regular practices, but there’s never a question that academics always come first. The games are fast and intense, but the teams referee themselves. The players play hard, but they are always ready to set aside rivalries to join their opponents for an after-match party.
“The goal,” Towner says with a smile, “is always to win, even if we were out late the night before.”