Starting Veg Clubs on College Campuses By Yasmin Radbod

By Yasmin Radbod

There are all different kinds of student activists who advocate for a plant-based diet. Many are active in student-run organizations on their college campuses; they inspire change amongst their peers and make changes at their university. It may seem like a simple task to bring together like-minded students at universities and create change, but oftentimes it is an arduous process that takes copious amounts of dedication, time, and passion.

I helped create UMBC Vegetarians at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Rachel Horner created a vegetarian and animal activist student organization at Towson University. Lisa Hines is the current president of the Penn State Vegetarian Club, and Rusty Zufall has been with the Penn State club since its beginnings. Lastly, Alisha Utter helped create People for the Elimination of Animal Cruelty through Educa-tion (PEACE) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). There are many similarities in our experiences of running vegetarian clubs on college campuses, such as time, commitment, organization, recruitment, and outreach. I hope this article can serve as a guide to creating a student organization at any college campus.

Getting Started

The initial process for starting a club is different at every university. Most often, it involves speaking to someone from student life or a similar department and to your student government, which must recognize the club as an official student organization.

To become a club, you must create a constitution of some sort. For example, the Penn State Vegetarian Club lists three clear purposes:

  1. To provide Penn State vegetarians and vegans with an opportunity to meet and socialize with other vegetarians and vegans. Activities include vegan potlucks, bowling, going to vegan-friendly restaurants, and whatever else our members suggest.
  2. To come together and organize outreach activities to promote the numerous reasons—primarily health, environmental, and animal rights—for going vegetarian or vegan. This will include leafleting, tabling, vegan potlucks (Invite your meat-eating friends!), bringing in speakers, etc.
  3. To provide members an opportunity to learn more about vegetarianism, veganism, and the various issues that accompany them. No one in the club knows everything about all that accompanies such a broad topic. Meeting for discussions about particular topics gives us all an opportunity to inform each other as well as ask questions of each other. With enough people, we should be able to address virtually any question. Also, if anyone would like to present on a topic, just let us know. Our discussions, movie screenings, and speakers should prove to be very informative.

Of course, there is a lot of other miscellaneous paperwork depending on your university’s policies. Rachel makes a good point: try looking up the requirements of how to start a student organization on your university’s website.

Getting Funding and Materials

You must be a recognized student organization to receive student organization funds for your events! Every university is different, so be sure to get in contact with someone who can explain how funding works. At UMBC, you must file paperwork at least three weeks in advance to receive funding from the Student Government Association (SGA), with all funding requests clearly explained in detail.

Regarding materials, Alisha has an excellent suggestion:

reach out to non-profit organizations that have material already prepared! Contact The Vegetarian Resource Group, PETA, Vegan Outreach, The Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), Compassion Over Killing ... The list of organizations that are more than happy to provide you with materials for your meetings and events goes on and on!

Recruiting Members

To start a club, your university will require you to have a certain number of initial members and sometimes an advisor. It can be easy to find students who are also interested in vegetarianism and are willing to be a part of the club, as long as you reach out to make contacts.

“At UCSD, you need four members to gain recognition as an organization,” Alisha recalls. “I ended up recruiting three people who I had met on separate occasions—a hiking trip, a vegetarian event, and I approached one person on campus because she was wearing a PETA shirt. I arranged for us to meet, and we eventually designated ‘officers’ based on what we were good at. When we felt like our goals were clear, we set out to complete UCSD’s process of initiating a student organization.”

I had a similar experience at UMBC. As soon as I started my freshman year, I made contact with a vegetarian who was interested in starting a club, as well as another vegan. The three of us haphazardly put the organization together as quickly as we could. We spread the word about our new organization by posting flyers everywhere (especially elevators and bathrooms), by creating a Facebook page (or using another website or blog), and by simply using word of mouth.

Nevertheless, even after recruiting members, time commitment is a major issue. As Rachel states, “The easiest part of the process [of starting an organization] was convincing people that it would be a useful club, but the most challenging part was getting people to commit their time to the group.” Rusty describes how students at Penn State have to balance their academics and extracurricular activities, and that makes it is difficult to retain membership.

After one year of UMBC Vegetarians being an active organization on campus, two of the original founders decided they did not have enough time to commit to the club, and the club fell on my shoulders. I had not been in charge of completing paperwork for the organization until this point, and I eventually figured out from scratch the ins and outs of how to run a student club at UMBC simply through trial and error.

Keeping People Involved

The easiest way to keep students coming back is plenty of interesting and well-organized social events and a lot of free food! Always have refreshments at meetings. Lisa says that their club aims “to provide members with opportunities to socialize with other vegetarians/vegans, to organize outreach events to promote a vegan diet, and to provide members with vegucational opportunities. We do this by having potlucks, leafleting, tabling, organizing video outreach, distributing vegan food, visiting farm sanctuaries, having discussions, and hosting speakers.”

This past year, UMBC Vegetarians co-sponsored and co-organized Baltimore VegFest, which was wildly successful, attracting almost 1,000 people. We also held a party where we offered free vegan pizza to all students. Rachel’s group at Towson University is planning on hosting a ‘greenfest’ on campus and has assisted in a river clean-up.

Other popular social events include having veg outings and vegan bake sales. UMBC Vegetarians does a monthly outing to a restaurant that has vegan options. We also hold monthly vegan bake sales. Try organizing a baking party the night before the bake sale. It is a lot of fun (and always yummy)!

Forming a Student Group: Step-by-Step

Alisha created this guide to forming a student group on campus especially for this article:

  1. Determine your goals. Explore why you are passionate about them.
  2. Having decided why your goals are important to you, it is time to convince others. If you sincerely believe your goals are worth pursuing, it will be easy to recruit students who support you and are interested in getting involved.
  3. Research your school’s requirements for a student organization. Do your best to meet those and complete the application process. Hopefully, you have come across like-minded students to assist in setting the foundation. Don’t be afraid to designate roles to create a more efficient process.
  4. Once your student organization receives recognition, determine when your first general body meeting will be. I recommend that you seek a location that you can reserve for the same time and day that you intend on meeting for the rest of the year.
  5. It is now time to promote your first general body meeting! Promotion can come in a variety of forms—from word of mouth to Facebook to flyers posted on campus. Flyers are ideal when you’re getting started since they don’t rely on much (wo)manpower. Post flyers in areas of high visibility like dining halls, lecture halls, and dorms. Also, try to focus on areas that potential members may frequent. For instance, if your campus has a food co-op, let them know about what you are trying to set up and ask to leave some flyers with them.
  6. Take some time away from promotions to focus on preparing for your first meeting. Remember, a good first impression is crucial! You want to make sure attendees feel comfortable and that you value their time. One way to make sure things run smoothly is by creating a structured meeting agenda, with important roles designated to officers. Secondly, encourage participation by all in attendance. By facilitating the exchange of insights and ideas, you can do your best to incorporate everyone’s personal goals into the organization’s mission.
  7. If all goes well, you will see some familiar faces at future meetings. Remember to take feedback from your fellow officers and frequently ask members what they expect from the club.
  8. Determine how frequently you wish to hold meetings based on members’ availability. For example, PEACE meets weekly.
  9. In addition to general body meetings, arrange social and educational outreach events that give members the opportunity to have fun and promote what they are passionate about!

Best of luck in creating a student organization at your campus! Change begins with like-minded people who are dedicated and willing to make a difference, first with their peers, and then with the world. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to e-mail me at vrg@vrg.org.

Yasmin Radbod wrote this article while doing the Eleanor Wolff internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.