On a typical weekday, the bulletin board in the student union at UCLA is plastered with flyers announcing meetings and events sponsored by hundreds of student groups and clubs on campus.
Last Tuesday, for example, the board announced meetings of the Lesbian Social Hour, the UCLA Cuban American Bruins, the Chinese Christian Fellowship and Enigma, a group devoted to science fiction and fantasy.
Another flyer announced a lecture by Rabbi Mendel Moscowitz on "Judaism and Vegetarianism." The talk was open to "Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, non-affiliates and any Jew that moves," the announcement proclaimed.
And homosexuals were encouraged to call the UCLA Gay and Lesbian Assn.
The flyers on the bulletin board represented only a handful of the more than 700 student groups--the highest number in the university's history--registered at UCLA this year. University administrators say the campus has more groups than any other university in the nation.
"There's definitely an upsurge in the number of groups," said Berky Nelson, director of the UCLA center for student programming. "The number has more than doubled in the seven years that I have been here."
Only three students are needed to form a campus group, Nelson said. Once registered with the center for student programming, a club can have meetings and sponsor events in campus facilities. Groups that are not affiliated with any religious or political group are eligible for student funds and office space on campus.
The student programming office set a record when it registered more than 400 student groups in a single week last October, said Tony Garcia, a student affairs officer at the center.
The increase is due in part to the growing number of ethnic groups represented on the campus, Nelson said. Also, he said, anxieties caused by academic competition and an uncertain job market have led many students to join religious groups. Others join organizations because they see group involvement as a means of getting a good job after graduation.
Some students join groups just to have fun. There are clubs for hobbies, such as comic book collecting and science fiction. One group is devoted to recreating life in the Middle Ages.
Another group, the Monday Morning Dada Club, tries "to promote brouhaha and smiley faces," according to the organization's statement of purpose. It recently conducted a survey to find out how many UCLA students cut their spaghetti. The results are expected soon.
Probably the biggest increase has been in ethnic groups, a trend that reflects the increasingly diverse population of Los Angeles, Nelson said. He cited the growing number of Latinos and Asians in the city and their increasing representation on campus.
According to a UCLA student population survey completed last fall, 17.8% of this year's undergraduates are Asian and 12.8% are Latino. Blacks make up 7% of the student body, American Indians make up 0.8% and whites account for 54%.
"As the population grows, there are people from specific ethnic groups that come to the university and they want their own identity, so they form an organization," Nelson said. "If you just took Jewish organizations, there might be five or six organizations here. There are subdivisions of subdivisions of subdivisions. They get down to as much specificity as possible."
For example, the American Indian Law Students Assn. and the Native American Women's Support Group focus on special concerns that are not exclusively addressed by the larger American Indian Students Assn., which is open to all UCLA students of American Indian descent.
And Latinos, depending on their preference, can choose from the Latin American Cultural Center, the Latin American Dental Students Assn., the Latino Pre-Law Society, the Raza Women's Organization or Moctezuma, a group for lesbian and gay Latinos.
Scores of other groups cater to Blacks, Jews and Muslims. There are separate organizations for Chinese, Malaysians, Turks, Armenians, Filipinos and Egyptians.
Homosexuals can become members of the Gay and Lesbian Assn. UCLA, the Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues, the Graduate Lesbian and Gay Social Group, the Asian-Pacific Students for Sexual Diversity, or Gay and Lesbian Thespians, which sponsors events for homosexuals interested in the arts.
And handicapped homosexuals can find support in the Helen Keller/Anne Sullivan Lesbian and Gay Disability Diversity Club.
Nelson said many students join groups because they don't want to feel alienated on the 411-acre campus, which has more than 34,000 students.
"It's like being lonely on Manhattan Island," he said. "When you consider the tough academic regimen here, everybody has a need to belong to something. They want to look back and be able to say, 'I did this.' I think that's very important for a school."
Also, he said, students increasingly believe that involvement in clubs--where members gain organizational skills and leadership abilities--will help them find good jobs after graduation. Concerns about jobs--and money--have helped boost membership in groups that prepare students for the business world, Nelson said.
At the same time, those anxieties have caused many students to join religious groups, where the pressure to compete is tempered by focusing on the non-material world.
"You need to find respite from the absolutely unbelievable competitiveness that pervades this campus," Nelson said.
The Intervarsity Bruin Christian Fellowship, one of the oldest Christian groups on campus, has experienced a steady increase in membership in the last five years, said Dan Veditz, a member of the group's executive committee. About 40 people attend the organization's weekly meetings, he said, and up to a dozen come to Bible studies three times a week on campus.
In all, there are 32 campus groups for Christians of virtually every denomination. Two of those are restricted to Chinese students, and four have only Korean members. Korean students, in turn, have separate groups for Roman Catholics, Baptists and graduate students of any denomination.
A group of student members of the Churches of Christ was busy last week handing out literature trying to persuade campus gays to change their ways.
Said member Marty Hudson: "We're trying to present the alternative. . . . We're not condemning them. It's not a sin to be homosexual. We're not advocating a change to heterosexuality, just that you don't act on those desires. In other words, celibacy."
There are dozens of political groups on campus. The biggest are the Bruin College Republicans, whose 250 members make it the second largest campus Republican organization in the nation, and the Bruin Democrats, who have a mailing list of about 600. Separate groups are being formed for individual Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.
Members of the Monday Morning Dada Club--many of whom sport unconventional hair styles and wear black leather jackets--meet informally for several hours every weekday at a table on Bruin Walk, the hub of student activity on campus.
"Whoever just wants to come over and talk to us is a member," said member Christie Naish. "It's just a bunch of different people. There's a bunch of people with funny hair, and we even have a 15-year-old genius."
Dada member Ioana Bodnaras a junior majoring in psychology, said the group two years ago sponsored a Take the Skinheads Bowling party in the student union's bowling alley. Last year, about 30 people participated in a slumber party on Bruin Walk, to the chagrin of campus police, she said.
The Society for Creative Anachronism has about 40 members who like to dress in medieval garb and stage mock sword fights and fairs.
"I think we all kind of subscribe to a belief in the importance of fantasy that can enhance our lives," said Sharon King, a graduate student in comparative literature who heads the campus chapter of the 15,000-member international organization. "It really is a collective fantasy, and, at its best, there are times when we're at a dance and you look around the room and the lights are dim and everyone is in this beautiful costume and you are back 500 or a thousand years. It really takes your breath away."
Not all organizations limit themselves to mock fights, however. Some, like the Spartacus Youth League and the International Committee Against Racism, have had violent confrontations with campus police trying to monitor political demonstrations.
But Nelson said it is better that people get into trouble while still in school than after graduation, when the consequences are more serious.
"I would much rather see people get in hot water here than not do it and do it after graduation, because that's when it's all serious," he said.
"This is a very strange period between adolescence and full-fledged majority status, so you expect faux pas, misinterpretations, hostilities and anger. But I'd much rather have an energetic, problematic campus than a campus where students study and get good grades but don't question society."