Rutgers ‘Muggle Mayhem’ club bridges community service, literature

With 18 distinct schools and colleges, New Jersey’s flagship state university seems to boast a longer list of options for students than Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which features the four Hogwarts Houses.

But just because Rutgers does not provide an outlet for aspiring witches and wizards does not mean it is missing a destination for fans of the Harry Potter series.

Muggle Mayhem is the University’s chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance, an international service organization that strives to change the world by making activism accessible “through the power of story,” according to the Alliance’s website.

Muggle Mayhem, as well as the entire Harry Potter Alliance, is all about putting community service in a Harry Potter framework, said Joe Buchoff, president of Rutgers Muggle Mayhem and a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

“It was founded in 2005 as a reaction to certain conflicts around the world, (along) with human rights violations,” Buchoff said. “Our purpose is to better the world in many ways through service, through activism ... community service is the craft, Harry Potter is the frame.”

The Harry Potter Alliance has engaged millions of Harry Potter fans through community service efforts promoting equality, human rights and literacy, according to the Alliance’s website. Muggle Mayhem is 1 of 10 chapters in the Garden State, and 1 of 3 in the City of New Brunswick.

Muggle Mayhem strikes a balance between being passionate for the Harry Potter fantasy novels and engaging people through activism and community service, Buchoff said.

“Even though (the events) are community service, there will be Harry Potter activities at them,” Buchoff said. “We’ve having a couple of events coming up that we’re starting to plan that we think will be great.”

Muggle Mayhem is enjoyable because it bridges reality with fantasy, said Shikha Nair, vice president of Rutgers Muggle Mayhem and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

“(It’s) something that we never thought was possible — (taking) our love for something so nerdy and using it to make a difference in the world,” Nair said.

Nair became involved with Muggle Mayhem at Rutgers because she previously started a chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance with her friend for their high school, and she thought it would be fun to join, she said.

All service programs that the organization engages in can somehow be traced back to J.K. Rowling’s wizard world in a concrete way, Buchoff said. For example, helping victims of abuse is closely related to the abuse of house elves like Dobby in the Harry Potter series.

Having every service project be traced back — directly or indirectly — to J.K. Rowling’s wizard world allows organization members to always have a common knowledge of something personal to them, which often translates to a special bond, Nair said.

“That’s what we do — we try to connect to scenes in Harry Potter, so I think because we do that, the people who participate really feel connected to the issues that we’re dealing with,” Nair said.

One campaign spearheaded by the Harry Potter Alliance was a movement to impose stricter, more ethical guidelines to regulating the sourcing of cocoa used by Warner Bros. to create Harry Potter chocolate products, Nair said.

Some of the service projects managed by the Muggle Mayhem chapter include, but are not limited to cleaning highways, assisting hospitals and working in local soup kitchens, Buchoff said.

“Obviously we know these are important issues, but when we connect them to something as personal to us as the scenes, it becomes something extra special,” Nair said.

Arguably, the most widely recognized service project that Muggle Mayhem manages is “Accio Books!,” the Harry Potter Alliance’s annual book drive whose name includes the novel’s summoning charm, “accio,” which translates from Latin to mean “I accept,” Buchoff said.

Harry Potter fans around the globe have donated more than 200,000 books to underprivileged readers since 2009, according to the Harry Potter Alliance website.

“(‘Accio Books!’) is fun. It’s a fun idea getting books together in the name of Harry Potter,” Buchoff said. “One of the big activist causes that the Harry Potter Alliance pushes is literacy ... The book drive speaks to that.”

When Nair tells people that are unaware of Muggle Mayhem that she is in a Harry Potter-themed service organization, those people often express perplexity as their initial reaction, she said.

“It depends on whether or not the other people like Harry Potter,” she said. “If they love Harry Potter, they think it’s amazing. If they don’t necessarily like the books or they’ve never read the books or watched the movies, they’re a little confused.”

But once she explains what Muggle Mayhem stands for and how they incorporate community service into the Harry Potter framework, more people are receptive of their mission.

Being in an environment with other people who love the Harry Potter books and movies, and being able to make a difference using those mutual interests is fun and significant, Nair said.

“I grew up on the books, and I know a lot of our members grew up on them,” she said. “We learned a lot of life lessons from the books, and being able to take those lessons and apply (them) to real life is really meaningful.”

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