Engaging students with alternative programming can look like more than club sports and intramurals.
At the College of New Jersey (TCNJ), the campus rec department hosts events called RECreate Your Night four nights a week, providing a safe, inclusive and fun environment for students to participate in.
The program began four years ago after Rob Simels, the director of recreation at TCNJ, was awarded a grant to provide late night programs to the recreation department. The goal was to reduce drug and alcohol abuse and offer alternative options for students. With data from surveys through other campus programs, it was decided to host the events on Tuesday nights, as well as Thursday through Saturday, for the entire year, to account for the most popular party evenings.
The next step was hiring a coordinator to begin planning and designing the program. This is where Courtney Van Leuvan, the late-night activities coordinator for TCNJ, stepped in.
“This is the equivalent of a club sport,” described Simels. “It’s just another area we program, and I actually think for our department and student body, it’s the one where we make the biggest impact and reach a lot of students we might not reach within recreational programming and fitness.”
The benefit of RECreate Your Night expands further than just the rec center events as it is able to reach a wide variety of students through multiple avenues of collaborating. “A lot of our clubs on campus who might not be able to run large programs because of budget can work with us to create programs they want to see and get students to come out,” said Simels. “We co-sponsor with them so the clubs don’t have to pay unless they want to add money.”
Van Leuvan agreed, as part of her role consists of coordinating with other clubs on campus. These partnerships help spread the word about RECreate Your Night. “We try to work with clubs, and that’s where we get the word out because they tell their friends and people want to support the clubs,” she said. “For example, we have a Harry Potter club on campus, and we did a whole week of Harry Potter themed nights, consisting of an escape room, trivia, and decorating mugs and making butter beer.”
Simels has also found the events help their intramural program by using it as a test to see if certain programs or activities will work. If the programs are a success, the department just might add them on as reoccurring activities.
The events have consisted of paint and cookies, a blacklight obstacle course, blacklight yoga, succulent potting, and learning cooking recipes. Both Simels and Van Leuvan emphasized the importance of offering activities that are not only physical, but attribute to overall wellness.
“We really have to sit and look at the wellness of the whole student and I think a lot of the things we do provides stress relief through mental well-being and socializing our students might not get or have the skill sets to handle,” said Simels. “So, they can come to our events and do more craft oriented or non-physical activities, but still get a wellness benefit.”
One key Van Leuvan has found helpful in coordinating these events is taking a survey at each event. “We found 20 percent of the people who filled it out have said they’ve met a new friend, which is great, especially since we do get slightly more freshman that come to our events,” she explained. “It’s a great place they can start meeting people, the people they live around and they can start getting to know each other.”