Student organizations build communities on campus

Courtesy / Grand Valley Alternative Breaks

Courtesy / Grand Valley Alternative Breaks

Jane Johnston, Editorial Intern

“The Grand Valley experience is like a coin,” said Eric Stevens, Assistant Director of Student Organizations in the Office of Student Life. “The one half is getting your degree, and the other half is supplementing it with experiences that round out what kind of person you want to be and the professional you want to be in your field.” 

Joining a student organization, he said, is the way to do that. 

Whether you’re looking to join college students across the country to find a cure for cancer or just find some folks to watch the Bachelor with, Grand Valley State University hosts over 400 student organizations that can help students find belonging on campus. 

Stephanie Torres found that belonging during her freshman year when she joined Alternative Breaks (AB), an organization that sends students on volunteer trips all around the country. 

“I think as a freshman, I knew what I was looking for, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be,” Torres said. After going on an AB trip over winter break that first year, she figured it out. 

Torres will graduate with a Public Non-Profit and Health Administration degree in April, and would love to keep working with AB.

“It helped me realize that the world is large but it’s also quite small, and it helped me make connections that are lasting,” Torres said. 

However, for some students — especially minority students — it’s hard to find that belonging on a campus that by-and-large doesn’t look like you. That’s why senior Jared Varnado started Impact the Movement, which Varnado said seeks to “be a space for black students to come together as a community and take their next steps with God.” 

“I wanted to create Impact because as a black student at GVSU, I have at times felt like I needed a space to be around others that have had similar experiences as I have had,” Varnado said. 

Kathryn Carey, a fellow senior, wanted the same thing when she created Bridges International, an organization that helps connect international students with American students. 

“International students generally don’t feel welcomed in America,” Carey said. “They generally feel alone. They need a space where they can feel comfortable getting to know other international students and American students who care for them.”

Stevens said that starting a student organization is just as easy as joining one.

“It’s really minimalistic in what we ask of students,” Stevens said, continuing on to say students simply need to come up with an idea for an organization that hasn’t already been established, form an e-board — that is, a President, Vice President, Financial Officer, Membership Officer and Faculty/Staff Advisor — and a constitution. 

“Even if it never expands beyond those four people,” Stevens said. “If you just want to get together with that group and do that thing that you’re passionate about, that’s all it takes.” 

For organizations that do want to expand their group beyond four students, they can sign up for Campus Life Night (CLN) or browse the multitude of resources the Office of Student Life provides

Although students aren’t expected to accrue a following for their organization, most want to — including Varnado.

“I am hoping that Impact will become a significant part of the black community at GVSU,” Varnado said. “Not just for black Christians but also for black students that are looking for a place to experience a community of people that are going through similar things that they are.”