A new program designed to expand social opportunities on weekend nights wrapped up a successful first year, with more than 45 programs offered since it debuted on orientation weekend last August.
Lehigh After Dark (LAD) kicked off with an inaugural event at SteelStacks that included live entertainment and was attended by more than 900 students. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, additional Lehigh After Dark programming offered expanded hours and fitness programming in Taylor Gym, themed events such as a horror movies at SteelStacks and a Costume Ball on Halloween weekend, a Strikes for Tykes fundraising event in Allentown, a swing dance event, the Spectrum Drag Show, and a Fire and Ice Ball in February that drew unprecedented support and attendance.
Global Studies major Tiffany Kupershcmidt, a member of the Student Senate, was one of the primary organizers for the Fire and Ice Ball and sought out financial support from the Lehigh After Dark Activity Fund for the mid-winter event.
“Even though Lehigh After Dark was new, it seemed to be the best outlet for partnering with as many groups as possible and to attract as many people from different communities at Lehigh,” she said.
“We had more than 500 students attend and have an amazing time. We’re hoping to do it again next year and make it even bigger and better. The best part of the whole event was seeing so many people be able to come together for food, dancing and fun. Everyone had a great time.”
Creating an enriched, healthy campus culture
The program is an outgrowth of Lehigh’s involvement in the National College Health Improvement Project (NCHIP), which joined the university with Dartmouth, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, Duke and others in seeking effective solutions to high-risk drinking.
Student Affairs Assessment Specialist Gina Baral Abrams, who is leading the university’s NCHIP involvement, said that Lehigh After Dark and other late night programs are key interventions in addressing high-risk drinking among colleges and universities.
“NCHIP’s focus on continuous quality improvement and the sharing of best practices among other colleges and universities within the collaborative helped us to design and refine Lehigh After Dark for maximum success,” Abrams said.
In introducing the program, Vice Provost of Student Affairs John Smeaton said the time frame of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights has historically seen higher drinking rates, dangerously high blood alcohol levels in inebriated students, and a high number of transports to local emergency rooms for treatment.
Although Smeaton and Abrams cite that focus on student health and safety as a primary motivator for the university’s significant investment in the new program, the enthusiastic response by students indicates that Lehigh After Dark is enriching the campus culture.
Tim Wilkinson, senior assistant dean and director of fraternity and sorority affairs, reports that the Office of First Year Experience is working with a number of campus partners to start off the next academic year strong with another event at SteelStacks. In addition, athletics will be expanding late night gym hours, and Residence Life and the Residence Hall Association are planning Thursday late-night trivia contests in the Hawk’s Nest. University Productions will be offering its annual “Lehigh Under the Stars” event on the UC front lawn as another late-night movie option.
Although the program is primarily driven by students, it is overseen by Wilkinson and Matt Kitchie, senior assistant dean and director of student activities. Both reported extremely positive responses by students engaged in the program. Several students served on committees devoted to planning and promoting events, and will continue their engagement over the next academic year.
The Lehigh After Dark committee organized a student planning session in late April that drew representatives from 25 student organizations, governing bodies, fraternities and sororities. Tasked with planning events for the upcoming academic year, Wilkinson said the students discussed multiple opportunities for collaboration.
“The groups involved are working with us over the summer to create LAD events that will be in place before the semester begins,” he said. “The students were excited about getting to know each other, and many good ideas were generated. And I’m really encouraged by the level of enthusiasm and energy brought by the students, many of whom didn't know each other before walking into the meeting.”
Smeaton said that a key to the program’s success was growing interest among students for expanded social options.
“In recent years, students have expressed an interest in a greater variety of social and recreational opportunities,” he said. “Our intent was to create a model that would support safe, enjoyable activities designed and delivered by students. We are off to a great start and student excitement for next year is very encouraging.”