Student groups invade Coffman

Coffman Union serves as the home for most of the student groups active on campus.

Amber Schadewald

There are more than 700 student groups at the University, and they’re each looking for some attention from the student body.

Anna Alba-Hernandez, Chicano studies senior and board member of Latino student group La Raza, had some advice for students.

“Don’t be intimidated – just come hang out,” she said. “And you don’t have to be Latino. It’s a public place and we’d love for more people to check it out.”

It’s a common cry from the cultural and academic groups on the second floor of Coffman Union.

With their doors open and their candy dishes fully stocked, they’re just hoping to catch the attention of passing students who can often be apathetic to involvement in school groups.

Each year, student groups must re-register and, if they desire, they can apply for space inside Coffman.

Mandi Watkins, an assistant director in the Student Activities Office, said any group is eligible, but it’s evident after a quick walk around the second floor offices that cultural groups primarily occupy the spacious suites.

Justin Jagoe, French and linguistics junior and member of the Queer Student Cultural Center, which has offices in Coffman, said this is because a diverse group of occupants is important.

“I think the groups (at Coffman Union) symbolize the diversity in our student body population and the social issues that are important to our community,” he said.

For the QSCC, having a room in such a visible location is crucial to their goal of “providing a safe space” – a place where people can feel comfortable openly discussing gender and sexuality, Jagoe said.

QSCC member Mike Grewe, a mathematics and statistics senior, emphasizes the group works hard at keeping the office open as much as possible.

“I also feel like (QSCC is) lucky to have such a space,” Grewe said. “If we have it, we should use it.”

Many of the student groups housed on the second floor of Coffman Union also have their own computers, couches, televisions and other amenities for members and nonmembers to use.

As a commuter, biology sophomore Vanessa Roberts began hanging out in the Black Student Union office last year to kill time between classes.

Roberts said she felt comfortable around the other members and liked having somewhere to do her homework. Like others, she encouraged new students – particularly first-year students – to come and check it out for themselves.

“The group does lots of events around campus, so it’s just a nice way to get involved in something you believe in,” Roberts said.

Not all students are so enthusiastic about student groups. Finance and economics senior Justin Fenlon said he only joined a finance-related group in order to boost his résumé. He said he doesn’t like that some groups charge membership fees and thinks groups can take up too much time.

“There are lots of things I’d rather be doing – like going to the bar or doing homework,” Fenlon said.

Participating in groups might also help improve grades, Watkins said.

National research has shown that students in student groups have better graduation rates and even better grades, she said.

Beyond the groups with large spaces, numerous other student groups share space in Room 226 This office option makes it possible for groups to interact and plan collaborative events.

Starting this year, student-group registration can be done almost completely online at the Student Activities Office’s Web site, sao.umn.edu.

A new group requires five officers, a $20 start fee and an advising appointment.

Rent is free for all student groups in Coffman Union and is paid with grants from the Student Activities Office.