Penn State's Clown Nose Club promotes positive intentional interaction

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- College student clubs and organizations range from academic and professional to social and service, special interest and performing arts. However, it can be rare for organizations to break the barrier of social norms.

The Clown Nose Club (often referred to as the CNC) encourages Penn State students to take positive social risks. Club members, recognized by their signature red clown noses, abide by the philosophy that people matter and interaction that is genuine and positive is wildly contagious and worth spreading. The club was created in 2010 by then-freshman Chad Littlefield, a junior rehabilitation human services and psychology major, under faculty adviser David Manos, assistant director of housing.

“I’d been noticing at Penn State my first couple of weeks that people were … it’s hard to pinpoint, but people just seemed sort of unaware of other people,” Littlefield said regarding the birth of the club. “Everybody seemed like they were doing their own thing, in their own time, and that’s it. It was almost like 43,000 little bubbles were just floating around State College not really personally interacting with each other. That’s why I wanted to start something to get people to positively interact.”

The Clown Nose Club gives students the opportunity to get to know like-minded people, be socially challenged, feel good by doing good and have tons of fun. Through general and small-group meetings, members learn how to fulfill the club’s mission.

“Taking positive social risks encourages people to step outside their comfort zone to have a positive impact on another human being,” said Littlefield. “If every student at Penn State made the choice to be intentional about having a positive effect on everyone they interacted with, this campus would be a freaking awesome place!”

The Clown Nose Club hosts several events throughout the year to demonstrate members' appreciation for the people they encounter regularly. Previous events have included the Library Personalization Project, in which members took the time to thank campus librarians; the You Matter Project, where members distributed Clown Nose Club cards that stated "You matter in the world!" in random places throughout campus; the Post-Its Project, which involved members hiding sticky notes in lecture hall 100 Thomas Building; and Blast Bus Drivers with Bravos. Held last November, Blast Bus Drivers with Bravos was club members’ way of showing their thanks and appreciation for the daily efforts of each bus driver, with signs and cheers for each bus that stopped by the North Atherton Street stop.

Since its creation, the Penn State club has had much success and growth. The idea has spread to North Carolina State University, which now has an official Clown Nose Club.

“I’d like to continue to see the philosophy of the CNC spread as a lifestyle to Penn State students and faculty,” said Littlefield. “My goal is not to boost membership or increase numbers. Rather, successful growth of the CNC, to me, is people choosing to treat each other more humanely, more positively and more authentically.”

The Clown Nose Club will have more opportunities to spread its message as Damon Sims, vice president for Students Affairs, recently invited Littlefield to sit in as a guest at his student leader Roundtable Project meetings.

“The CNC is unique among our nearly 1,000 student organizations in its focus on the rather straightforward goal of encouraging its members and others to take positive social risks,” Sims said. “That's a quality often required of successful leaders, and I hope that Chad's inclusion among the other 30 or so students on the Roundtable will encourage healthy interactions among them that invite honesty and candor, as well as good rapport.”

The club continues to make strides towards redefining the norm in areas of social interaction.

“Begin to really see people,” Littlefield recommended. “See people beyond the surface. Choose to empathize with others. Without realizing people matter, it’s hard to treat them like they do.”

For further information regarding the Clown Nose Club, please visit http://www.clubs.psu.edu/up/clownnoseclub/index.html online.

Contacts: 

Kelly Newburg

Last Updated October 12, 2011