To plan or not to plan: why college students don’t attend campus events

Think back to your very first late night of college. Maybe it’s 2 a.m. and your roommate asks if you want to get a snack. You’re boxed in between two cars in the McDonalds drive through before you realize that eating this much grease so late at night will probably scar your stomach lining for eternity, but as soon as you crunch into the first crisp, salty, perfect french fry, all inhibition is thrown to the wind and the McDonalds run becomes tradition.

Surprisingly enough, this is what a typical crazy night looks like for a college student. The best memories seem to be made on the unexpected road trips or the delirious late-night adventures when everything is 20 times funnier than during the day. This fact begs the question of why spontaneity is so much more fun than a planned event. Why don’t college students see campus event flyers on their doors and immediately write down the date for the wonderful activity that their university organizations have planned for them?

“College students are told to plan everything so they don’t miss anything,” said Amiee Brassart, the Assistant Director for Student Leadership and Engagement at Union. “Sometimes you need the spontaneity because your life is so structured.”

According to Facebook events, there are three people in this world: Going, Not Going and Interested. College students are notorious for perpetually choosing the “Interested” category. Administration is constantly trying to create activities that students are excited to come to. One of the most popular, according to Brassart, are the midnight movies because students get to watch a movie on the big screen and they’re provided with free drinks and snacks. Brassart said their largest turnout was about 300 or more students. Movies are non-evasive and there is limited contact with people you don’t know.

However, one of the least successful events for SAC, or Student Activities Council, is Be Our Guest. Be Our Guest is an event where students will sign up to have dinner at a professor’s house with other students. The beautiful thing about it is getting to know your professors on a more personal level. Because of Union’s smaller college atmosphere, professors will get to know not only their students’ names, but also their personalities and interests. But making the decision to spend free time in this way can sound scary at first.

Spontaneity is the college way of life. There will most likely never be a time when driving an hour or longer to get donuts from a 24-hour bakery does not sound exhilarating to a student. That’s familiar and comfortable.

“Students don’t want to commit because they don’t know if something better is going to happen,” said Kayla Corona, Residence Director for Women’s Quads. “Every student is invited, that’s about 900.”

Only about 100-150 students attend, however. When planning for future events, Corona and her team look at the attendance of past annual events to plan for the future. They also look at activities happening on campus that might take students away such as conferences, concerts, and academic obligations.

Union is unique in its Residence Life program because of its conversation based programming. Whereas most universities will have their Resident Advisors plan events for their entire floor or building, Union’s program encourages one-on-one interactions in addition to larger events so individual students feel known and intentionally pursued.

This is a less intimidating approach to drawing students out of their shell and providing them with the knowledge that they always have someone to talk to. Resident Advisors will invite their entire building to events in order to build on those friendships and connect other people in the building. Residence Life events are often teamwork based, which grows relationships more quickly because of the memories that are made through the various activities residents have to perform together.

Allowing yourself to try something new and slightly scary is the only way to find out if it’s enjoyable. After so many late night adventures, at some point, the spontaneous eventually turns into the planned anyway.

So put some dates on your calendar, press the “Going” button on Facebook every once in a blue moon, and finally, be thankful you go to a university where there’s an entire department dedicated to giving you gift cards, free food and inevitably, new friends.


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