Come party with the party:
It is truly rare for a journalist to hear ?Do you want the truth, or do you want lies?? at the beginning of an interview. But that is exactly how the interview with KGB president Ed Ryan started out.
According to Ryan, a junior in physics, KGB was ?formed by a bunch of bitter CIA members? in 1988. The group had broken away from CIA (the ?Carnegie Involvement Association?) to form the new student group.
?They?ve billed [themselves] for a long time as a group that practices safe silliness ... and also the recreational use of nuclear weapons,? said Tom Strong, a KGB alum who joined in 1989 ? only a year after the organization was formed.
?There?s a social need for KGB on campus. It exists because it has to,? said Ryan. ?There?s a certain personality to campus that in a way demands the existence of KGB.? When Bill Gates visited campus last month, Ryan presented him with a copy of the Linux operating system.
KGB has approximately 60 to 70 members, including alumni who still participate. They have weekly meetings on Mondays at 4:30 pm, in addition to a weekly executive committee meeting. The meetings loosely follow Robert?s Rules of Order ? a standard for parliamentary procedure.
?Under very strict rules of order, it?s this bizarre form of chaos,? said David Stern, a first-year in information systems.
There is a weekly social event, which can cover a range of activities: movie nights, fundraisers, dinner trips, and a ?Linear Regression Night? of dodgeball and other outdoor games. They also have a board game night called ?Get Board, Get Carded? and occasional parties, including a Halloween party and a ?Bitterness Party? held around February 14.
Most KGB members say they do not know what their group?s name stands for, if anything. Names that have been proposed include ?Keeping Geeks Busy? and ?Kidnapping Girls for Bennett.? (John Bennett was a former KGB member.)
KGB claims to participate annually in Buggy Sweepstakes with a gas-powered shopping cart. In past years, they have produced T-shirts with slogans such as ?We could show you our buggy, but then we?d have to kill you.?
KGB offers the ?Underground Tour? each September to provide students with an alternative account of campus history. According to Ryan, it covers ?the stories that don?t get told ? everything the university would frown upon.?
One of KGB?s most well-known events is Capture the Flag with Stuff. The tradition began in 1994 when KGB ran a standard game of capture-the-flag in Wean and Doherty Halls, but soon afterwards enhanced the game with the addition of ?stuff.?
Stuff consists of objects which endow the bearer with special powers in the game, and includes such items as the Wand of Vengeance and the Belt of Chastity. Each game generally has between 100 and 150 players.
?It involves a lot of running, singing, and sometimes hundreds of people holding hands skipping and singing Yankee Doodle,? said Jennifer Boriss, a first-year design student who attended the event last semester. KGB held this semester?s Capture the Flag with Stuff event last Friday.
?The game has definitely evolved. As time went by, we got more and more people. The rules have had to change to better accommodate more people,? said Ryan.
Occasionally, KGB takes over a rally or protest, bringing signs that sometimes have peculiar messages, or that are designed to mock the protest. Last year, KGB members showed up at a pro-troops rally on the Cut and nearly outnumbered the College Republicans, according to an article in the Post-Gazette. They carried signs containing messages such as ?Free Kevin Mitnick? (despite the fact that the famous hacker had already been released from prison).
Events like these constantly attract new members to KGB. In fact, Boriss read about KGB?s actions at the protest before coming to CMU, and it motivated her to join the group.
KGB members have also volunteered to be the ?scary people? at a haunted house sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. According to Yanna Weisberg, second vice-president of KGB, one rather tall and formidable-looking KGB volunteer was particularly good at this task.
?[The organizers] said ?Oh, he doesn?t need a mask.? They just gave him a cloak,? said Weisberg.
KGB is the largest non-funded student organization at CMU. ?We don?t want funding,? said Ryan. ?If we were funded, we would then be responsible to student government for what we do with those funds.?
There is a membership fee of $10 for a semester, or $15 for the year. Booth is the group?s largest expense, with remaining funds going towards food and events. KGB?s most frequent fundraiser is held every week when members at the weekly meeting are asked to throw pennies to the front of the room. This helps to raise a few bucks each week.
Gregg Economou, a CMU staff member who is better known by his Andrew UserID ? Isildur ? joined KGB in 2000, but has been around CMU since 1994. He has seen KGB change over the years and comments that there are now more females in the group, and that it has become less populated by hardcore computer science students. It now includes students from most of the CMU colleges, including the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the College of Fine Arts.
?To some extent, the non-CS people have been CS-ified by the other people,? said Economou. According to Economou, as the composition of the group changed over several years prior to 2002, there was ?resistance to the younger generation of KGB.?
?[Some members] resented the usurpation by these non-CS-nerd type people,? said Economou. KGB is now more diverse than it was ten years ago and has people from almost all disciplines.
?Your major isn?t important anymore. It?s not all about CS,? said Boriss. KGB members commonly cite the organization?s randomness and lack of any rigid structure as their reason for joining the group.
?Other student organizations are kinda based on sanity.... KGB?s not like that,? said Boriss. Boriss and other first-year students say that it is very easy to quickly become a part of the group.
?KGB is generally defined as whatever its members want it to be,? said Economou. ?The character of the organization changes as the people come and go.?
KGB members are mum on any activities that might be in disagreement with University rules. ?KGB doesn?t do things that the university would frown upon,? said Ryan.
?If there were steam tunnels, we?d be the last people to know,? said Economou.
Since 1997 KGB has intermittently produced a newsletter called Pravda?. However, no issues have been published this past year.
KGB also participates in Carnival?s booth competition. They built their first booth ? titled ?Land the Plane in Red Square? ? in 1989, and won the chairman?s choice award. For the 1990 booth, according to Strong, they tried to think of the most absurd thing to put in a booth. At the time, they decided it would be drywall.
?We figured nobody would be crazy enough to do it so we did it,? said Strong. The booth, named ?Topple the Czar,? sported dry walls and hardwood floors, and took first place in the independent organizations competition.
KGB has a number of officer positions: president, first vice-president, second vice-president, recording secretary, corresponding secretary, treasurer, and sergeant-at-arms. Any KGB member is permitted to run for elections, after receiving a nomination.
The president is in charge of running meetings and giving the organization its direction (or lack of direction, if he so chooses). The first vice-president interacts with new members, and, according to Ryan, takes over ?should the president die or explode.? The second vice-president is in charge of organizing events.
The recording secretary keeps minutes at the meetings, and the corresponding secretary communicates with alumni and oversees the publication of the Pravda? newsletter. The treasurer manages funds, and the sergeant-at-arms manages equipment and supplies.
According to Strong, KGB once took over part of Student Senate. KGB members ran for election and succeeded in making up almost half of the executive committee. Some of the members had rather unusual platforms. According to Strong, Jay Laefer won Student Body Treasurer with the campaign slogan ?bread and circuses.?
Regarding the future of KGB, Economou said, ?I see KGB doing more visible stuff. Make people more than a little confused.?
KGB is hard to define, in part because it is a group that doesn?t want to be classified under any confining definition. But whether KGB is confusing, eccentric, or just plain fun, it is clear that it is a unique part of campus that sets it apart from any other group.