Opinion Columns & Blogs

Michael Fincher: What to do with spare time at UC Merced

Much has been happening here at UC Merced lately. There are new students on campus, several buildings are under construction and there are new parking spaces that are causing quite a stir among the on-campus residents.

The biggest change between this semester and last semester, however, aren't the tractors and construction crews on campus, but the prospect of actually having something to do on the weekends and during free time.

The university expects a huge wave of freshman students next fall, and there should be plenty of activities for them when they get here. With more than 70 clubs on campus, students will be able to choose from clubs that interest them, whether it is joining a religious group, bicycling or playing chess.

Twenty-nine of these clubs were on campus two weeks ago at the UC club fair, where new students and touring groups of prospective students were given a taste of the social environment and opportunities available to them at UC Merced.

Among the clubs were several faith-based organizations representing Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Others were the sports shooting club, martial arts club, many cultural groups, such as the Persian Club, a biking club and the undergraduate research journal, which publishes the works of many undergrads in all areas of study.

Also among the groups were the campus Democrats, who were advertising their upcoming trip to Sacramento. The college Republicans' booth was found a few spots down, passing out their new Right Side publication, along with copies of the Constitution and Ronald Reagan pins.

Another club that's been an underground hit on campus was The Other Child, a satirical paper that makes fun of the campus paper, The Prodigy. The head of the "Club," Beejan Petrosky, stated jokingly that the purpose of his paper, which features writers with proxy names, was to "be better than you," and that they have to make fun of everyone, since it would be "discrimination" if they didn't.

The centerpiece of the club fair was a fairly new addition to our campus that's reaching prominence: Greek life. Two fraternities and four sororities were advertising their organizations and Greek life in general.

In a strong push by fraternities and sororities to increase their numbers and promote the Greek system, they first celebrated Go Greek Week. Wearing yellow shirts with the names of all the fraternities and sororities on the back, the various groups worked together to promote, first, Greek life, and then their own groups.

Though some think these are stereotypical groups, their main purposes are community service, and many of the organizations are recognized nationwide as such. Office of Student Life Coordinator Jim Greenwood , who works with all clubs and organizations on campus, remarked that Greek life will increase the numbers of activities and events on campus, as well as provide the school's students an opportunity for enhanced leadership skills and more interaction with the local community.

Last semester, many students went home to the Bay Area or Southern California for the weekends, instead of staying on campus in Merced. One reason was because of the lack of activities on campus during the weekends, though the lack of activities during the weekends was due to the few students who stayed behind.

Srikanth Majji remembers that he thought he was going to transfer out of Merced after his sophomore year because of the lack of participation of students with activities on campus. During spring semester 2007, however, he was approached by several other students who asked him if he was interested in starting a fraternity on campus. "From there it just took off," Srikanth said about his role in helping start Greek life on campus. "Not many people can say that they helped start not only their own fraternity, but an environment in which other people can start their own fraternity or sorority."

Not only did Srikanth help start the Sigma Chi fraternity, but he also helped start and currently heads the Greek Council, a governing body for all the Greek groups on campus. There are more than 170 students already involved in fraternities and sororities on campus, and there's a third fraternity just starting out.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of being a fraternity member is that they get a free supply of energy drinks -- Monster and RockStar sponsor the fraternities on campus and advertise to loyal customers. Greek life continued to campaign this past week by celebrating Rush Week, a last-minute opportunity for students to pledge before next semester.

With plenty of choices of organizations to join, the days of UC Merced students complaining about not having anything to do are starting to wind down. Soon, maybe in a year or so, they'll be saying they don't have enough time to join all of the groups that interest them. Though there are still opportunities right now to start interest groups and clubs on campus, this will soon change because many students are taking advantage of the great opportunities of starting tradition here at UCM.

Michael Fincher is studying political science at UC Merced. He is the co-founder/vice president of the College Republican Club at UC Merced and the founder/executive editor of The Right Side, a conservative paper for UCM students.