Student organizations are growing at Baylor in record numbers, with more than 9,000 students participating in over 350 individual groups in the last year, with purposes ranging from service to academics to professional to just plain fun. These organizations, officially governed by Student Activities but started in many cases by students with a passion or a hobby to share, are an increasingly integral part of what it means when students talk about their Baylor experience.
"Student organizations create distinct memories and refine the Baylor Bear experience for students," Matt Burchett, director of Student Activities, said. "It's an opportunity to get to know classmates, test and grow your leadership capabilities and really thrive at Baylor by getting connected and engaged beyond the classroom."
In the last five years, Baylor has seen the number of campus organizations increase from 220 to more than 350, with the number of students active nearly doubling. Participation in Greek organizations remains strong, but the interest in being a part of organizations in all facets of student life has exploded. Burchett attributes this in part to a renewed focus on the importance of these organizations, and a streamlining of the process to start one. While there are guidelines and policies that ensure an organization fits the mission of Baylor University, Student Activities removed much of the red tape from starting an official student organization in 2011, allowing them to better harness the passion of students wanting to start a club.
A small sampling of the student organizations shows the variety of options available:
"I think our student organizations here are awesome because it shows we value community," Jacob Farris, a senior health and science studies major from Houston, said. Farris leads Impact Movement, a student organization comprised of 15 students who meet each Thursday in the Bill Daniel Student Center for in-depth Bible study and discussion. "When you have so many organizations to choose from, it shows that we as a community embrace people and their different interests, that we're open to each other and want to welcome people to find what's right for them."
One of the easiest ways to get a sense of the scope of student organizations and interest is to attend the yearly Late Night event, held this year on Aug. 26. More than 5,500 students took part in the Friday night exposition. Spread out across five buildings on campus, most student organizations set up interest tables with posters, sign-up sheets, free goodies and more to help them recruit fellow students to join their cause.
The impact of an event like Late Night goes far beyond merely buttressing Baylor's student involvement totals. For some students, the people they meet help them carve out a niche at Baylor. Denise Lopez Cruz, a junior accounting major from Garland, Texas, thinks back to her first days on campus as a freshman and remembers being a young woman convinced she'd made a mistake.
“"It's crazy to think now, but my first week here, I cried every day," Lopez Cruz said. "I felt like I didn't fit in. It was a culture shock for me. It's not an exaggeration to say if I hadn't found Kappa Delta Chi, I might not be here now."
Lopez Cruz met representatives from Kappa Delta Chi, a multicultural service organization, at Late Night as a freshman. After deciding to rush, she found friends who would become like family on campus.
"After I met my future sisters with Kappa Delta Chi and went through the rush process, I lost all my doubts that I'd made the right choice coming to Baylor," Lopez Cruz said. "It made me feel at home, and I felt great about being involved in the community and serving."
This year, Lopez Cruz begins a new role as Kappa Delta Chi's president. Stories like that drive Burchett and the Student Activities team to hold events like Late Night and help students find a club that fits their interests.
"We want every Baylor student to have a place they call home," Burchett said. "With 350 groups, we really feel like there is something for everyone. Student organizations strengthen the culture and community we're building, and we feel like they help students find a place to feel at home and thrive."