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.
Two weeks ago, 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.
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."
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 attend 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.
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.