University Nerdfighters offers nerd-friendly community for students

Emily Fu

Astronomy buffs, board game aficionados, “Doctor Who” fanatics and other enthusiasts gather weekly at the Union with one mission in mind ­­— to fight for nerdiness.

The University Nerdfighters, an organization founded four years ago, is based on best-selling author John Green and his brother Hank’s online Nerdfighters community. Nerdfighters is dedicated to “increasing awesome and decreasing worldsuck” through weekly meetings and volunteer activities every few weeks.

History sophomore and president Nick Pfeifer said the organization focuses on promoting acceptance toward people of all backgrounds and interests.

“We want to make an open culture for anyone who has a nerdy interest or fringe interest and foster a little family among these people,” Pfeifer said.

History senior and Nerdfighters co-founder Zach Foust defines a nerd as anyone who is insanely enthusiastic about specific things. Foust said he can talk for hours about anything history-related.

“I also really love board games and tabletop games,” Foust said. “I’ll watch videos about how they’re designed and the psychology behind how we perceive what is fun.”

To promote the idea of embracing nerdiness, the Nerdfighters’ meetings consist of members presenting mini 15-minute TED talks about a topic of their choice. The talks don’t have to be educational as long as they are something the speaker is passionate about.
“This week, I talked about math,” Victoria Dominguez, vice president of Nerdfighters and mathematics and astronomy junior, said. “And last week, [Foust] talked about Abraham Lincoln. Whatever someone’s passionate about, they get to talk about in the meetings.”

Pfeifer said the organization works to change people’s perception of the stereotypical nerd and cliché nerdy interests. He said he is a huge fan of “Doctor Who” and Green Day.

“I love to talk about that with people,” Pfeifer said. “And to know that some people would listen, that’s a cool thing. We’re trying to expand what the word nerdiness means.”

Dominguez said that at her first Nerdfighters meeting, the members cracked puns and jokes, making her feel like she fit right in.
“I found that people actually like me, and it’s okay to be who I am,” Dominguez said. “We encourage our members to continue that outside of the club and just be good people.”

Once a year during finals week, the Nerdfighters host Project for Austin, a spin off of John Green’s Project for Awesome, where the group films a 12-hour-long online live stream to raise money for the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas. The group puts on performances, live games and demonstrations and invites viewers to donate online to the food bank. Last year, they raised more than $700.

“It’s kind of like a telethon,” Foust said. “We try to do the event in a nerdy way. One of the things we did last year was a jeopardy game, and we partner with other organizations such as GigglePants and the Astronomy Students Association to perform and demonstrate at the event.”

Dominguez said her favorite part about the Nerdfighters is their inclusivity and ability to be open and welcoming to all kinds of people.

“You can be any shade of LGBT or any color or any major or any class level,” Dominguez said. “You can be anything, and as long as you want to decrease worldsuck and are passionate about something, you can be a part of us.”