Carving a Niche: How an Idea Becomes a Club
Recent club founders encourage anyone considering starting their own club to take the leap.
This article is featured in the 2021 Freshman special issue.
Many first year students find a home away from home on campus within one of Dartmouth’s over 160 student organizations. However, some students can imagine a space that isn’t filled by an existing club. When a student has an idea for a club that doesn’t currently exist at the College, they can embark on the journey of creating it themselves. Here’s a step-by-step look at the process of forming a new student organization, from start to finish.
Step 1: An Idea is Born
Naturally, a brand-new club starts with an idea. When Sam Locke ’22 reflected on the current clubs at Dartmouth, they noticed a lack of comedy-based performance groups that weren’t audition-based. Thus, the idea for Dartmouth Comedy Network — a sketch comedy and stand-up club that’s open to all — was born.
“[Before DCN,] about 17 people from the freshman class could join a comedy performance group,” Locke said. “I really liked the idea that I could get better in this new group that I started, and other people could get better and improve instead of already having to be in the most competitive 17 people.”
Other students similarly noticed a niche that they wanted to fill. Allan Rubio ’23 and Pam Pitakanonda ’22 had the idea for the Thai Student Association because they felt that a space specifically for Thai students was “lacking a little bit on our campus” and they wanted to “create [that] sense of community,” according to Pitakanonda.
Some students have a unique passion they want to share with the greater community. Pulkit Nagpal ’23 has been practicing origami since he was a child, and his inspiration for starting Origami for Good stemmed from his desire to both continue the art himself and share it with others.
“I wanted a space where we could practice origami,” said Nagpal. “It’s something that I hold very close to my heart, having done it throughout my childhood, but I kind of stopped. I needed another reason to continue, and my reason [was] just to share the art with others, especially during the pandemic.”
Students may also revive older clubs to fill modern needs on campus. Maanasi Shyno ’23 didn’t feel like there was a publication dedicated to exploring subjects through the lens of intersectional feminist thought, so she began exploring Spare Rib — a newspaper originally founded in 1992 aimed at examining feminine identity at Dartmouth. Shyno decided to re-establish this organization as a magazine representing the experiences of people “marginalized by the traditionally centered narrative at Dartmouth and beyond,” per Spare Rib’s current website.
“One thing I felt was lacking on campus was a space where people could talk about the issues they cared about and personal things,” said Shyno. “We wanted a place where all of these things were united by intersectional feminist thinking on a variety of issues.”
Step 2: Develop the Club
After the initial idea strikes, students consider the baseline logistics for the club’s operations. Hopeful club founders must gauge student interest in their prospective organization and hold recruitment and organizational development meetings. These meetings may include holding elections and developing an organizational mission.
Locke, for instance, said that in order to “make sure that [they] could make [comedy] sketches work,” they gathered a few friends and began practicing writing sketches on weekends and during breaks. Once they felt confident writing sketches, Locke also had to coordinate how to get equipment, such as tripods.
Shyno reached out to her close friends, who she said were “not only really excited, but had a lot of ideas and energy to contribute.” They met up approximately once a week for about a month to fully “flesh-out” the organization.
Rubio, Pitakanonda and Nagpal all commented that because their clubs serve such a small niche, it was sometimes difficult to gather a following outside of their circle of friends while in the planning stage of the club.
“[Recruiting members] was the hardest part. You need ten members to get started, and we only had three to begin with,” Pitakanonda said. “Right before we submitted the [Committee on Student Organizations] application, there was a lot of reaching out to friends and asking them if they're interested in joining us for the next term,” Rubio added.
Shyno and her close friends also sent information about Spare Rib in various GroupMe chats, and they asked People of Color in the Outdoors to send a listserv email on their behalf. They then held an introductory meeting and began the process of writing magazine articles and publishing on their newly built website, even prior to status as an official student organization. During this process, however, Shyno said it “became clear that [they] needed COSO approval” in order to both receive funding and to communicate more easily with the student body.
Step 3: Receive Formal Approval
Once an unofficial club has held these development meetings and has the minimum of ten founding members, they can continue the process of applying for COSO approval. Next steps include reading through the “Privileges and Responsibilities of Recognition” on the COSO website and finding a faculty or staff advisor for the organization.
“The role of an advisor is to provide stability, continuity, and guidance and to assist in fostering the prudent management of organizational funds,” according to the COSO guide to applying for recognition. The advisor must sign a Petition for Recognition before the student leaders can continue on to write a constitution and statement of purpose for their organization.
Pitakanonda described the process of writing a constitution as “fairly straightforward,” but she also said that there are “so many minor things you don’t think about, like how many votes you need to have a majority agreement.”
Once all of these documents have been filed, the group meets with a COSO advisor for 15 minutes to review the documents. The club advisor and at least seven student members then submit all forms to COSO and present their organization idea at a hearing, where they “will explain the mission of [the] organization and answer any questions COSO may have,” according to the COSO guide to applying for recognition.
Students are notified of COSO’s approval decision after the meeting. If approved, they will receive an organization email and more information about financial procedures. The group will also be eligible to apply for funding from COSO.
Locke and Shyno both said that in their COSO hearings, they were asked to explain why their organization was different from existing organizations and how it contributed to campus. For DCN, Lock explained that Dartmouth did not have an existing stand-up group, but similar organizations were present at peer institutions. Shyno had to explain how Spare Rib filled a different niche than HerCampus or The Dartmouth’s “Mirror” section — two other campus publications.
Advice from the Experts
Though the steps may sound complex, Rubio found the process so simple that he thinks “if any ’25 or ’24 wants to start a club or organization, they should just do it.”
Locke also encouraged students to establish clubs, but stressed that they should be passionate about it first. They emphasized that founding and maintaining a club takes hard work and dedication — especially considering how the quick, 10-week terms make it difficult to have consistency — but it’s all worthwhile if the student cares deeply about the organization.
“The work that’s been involved is stuff I’ve been happy to do, but if it wasn’t something I was passionate about, I would have hated it.” Locke said.
Shyno encouraged any members of the Class of 2025 interested in starting a club to reach out to upperclassmen for advice. She also hopes that club founders focus on building a positive environment across all classes within their clubs.
“Some clubs don’t have the same kind of community that a lot of people are searching for, and that just makes it very hard to sustain those clubs,” Shyno said. “People love the things that [they] do here on campus, [and] it’s not because of the activity. It’s because of the community that they have there. People come back because they have a good environment.”
Above all else, Nagpal encouraged students to be bold and pursue their passions.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there in terms of what you want to do, what you want to see on campus,” Nagpal said.