Using Halloween to Engage Students


There is a myriad of ways to engage students on campus, but none better than Halloween programming. Between the costumes and candy, college students get excited about Halloween, thus making it an excellent occasion for drawing their attention.

Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, during which students travel home to see their families, Halloween is one of the few holidays for which students will still be on campus.

This is the prime opportunity for college campuses to drive student engagement.

Three such campus recreation departments — Longwood University, James Madison University and the University of Maryland in Baltimore County — are using the Halloween season in unique ways to increase student participation in recreational programming:

Steve Bobbitt — Associate Director for Programming, James Madison University

Eight or nine years ago, we started looking at trying different types of programming around times where maybe there was some negative things going on across and off campus, and give students that are on campus something positive to do. We decided we really wanted to try and do something in the fall. So, this is our seventh or eighth year that we’ve done this haunted house. It’s evolved — the haunted house has become the big hit, people talk about it, and are ready to come over and do it. Not having to pay for it is kind of a big draw. We found that the Thursday night of the Halloween week works really well, in terms of when a lot of off campus things are going on.

It’s kind of morphed over the years, and we’ve tweaked it as we’ve gone. The big draw is the haunted house piece, and so I spend a lot of time, energy and effort on that. It’s basically a maze program where they go through different rooms, and staff members and students will adopt a room. We started doing the escape room thing a few years ago, and that’s very popular as well. There’s typically a costume contest. We have an apartment complex that’s sponsoring that, so there will be prizes for those types of things, too. And we try to set up just different things throughout the building, keeping people engaged the whole time. Of course, the rest of the building is open like normal, and decorated up to kind of get in the spirit of things.

Marissa Musumeci — Associate Director of Campus Recreation, Longwood University

This is our sixth year putting on the haunted house event. It’s all planned and facilitated by a student committee of around 10 people — there is a new theme every year. This year it’s called “CARNEVIL” and we themed some of the rooms around It. The past few years we have had anywhere from 600 to 700 students attend. We are giving away big prizes, free carnival-type food, having an intramural 3-point shooting contes, and keeping the crowd entertained with carnival games.

The original inspiration came from our students wanting to extend our facility hours to be able to work out longer and combine it with an alternative event. Every time we put on a special event, we feature some type of an intramural contest and special attraction, and extend our building hours. We also tend to attract new users to our facility with the Haunted House that may have not tried out our programs yet.

Gary Wohlstetter — Senior Associate Athletic Director, University of Maryland in Baltimore County

For us, Halloween is more than just one event. We try across campus to create more of a holiday spirit, give the students something to look forward to, and it’s actually almost a week of different activities, events that we forge across campus with a lot of our campus partners. October 20, we actually did a late-night laser tag event to kick off the whole week. On Wednesday, October 25, we hosted a 3K Monster Dash, and this year, we had over 200 participants partake in that event, which is amazing because it’s in the middle of the day at 12 p.m. On Friday, October 27, we run something called “Thriller at the Rec,” which is really right out of the Michael Jackson video. Our coordinator for fitness and wellness coordinates this whole couple of hours of activities. We have costume contests, we have giveaways and it’s really a very festive event. It’s just a great afternoon, and it’s just something that we realize that the more we create for students to engage outside the classroom, the better off it is for them. It’s a balance of wellness; it’s a balance of being active and interacting with other students, communicating, and just having fun.

The inspiration behind it was our fitness coordinator, who was also a dance major here. It’s something that she dreamed up and has been working on. Her inspiration was to get people into the holiday spirit, so they can have fun — and it’s a great thing, and it just connected really well with the holiday.

These campus rec departments have capitalized on the Halloween season for years in order to maximize the effectiveness of their campus outreach efforts.

And while all three have been putting on their respective events for a few years now, they still remember a few learning lessons that any campus recreation department could benefit from.

Steve Bobbitt — Associate Director for Programming, James Madison University

You should take advantage of your space. You definitely have that opportunity to do some large scale stuff in your building — if you have a basketball court and a Group X room, it’s pretty easy to pull off. It does take a lot of time to plan, and you definitely have to have a little bit of an investment to make it work. But a lot of stuff you can keep reusing, just like any other piece of equipment you have, so you can build your inventory up over time.

Marissa Musumeci — Associate Director of Campus Recreation, Longwood University

Collaboration and building relationships are crucial. We would certainly not be able to put on such a big event without our volunteers and partners. I feel our students learn so much from putting on this event even after being on the committee for years. They also build relationships with one another and are able to gain skills they may not have in their other positions in campus recreation.

Gary Wohlstetter — Senior Associate Athletic Director, University of Maryland in Baltimore County

Look outside the box a little bit more than normal; look outside what you normally provide for students, whether it be in health and wellness or in intramurals. But look for activities that you can engage your students in, that might be a little different than what you normally provide. Try to connect to those students that maybe you don’t connect to by using campus partners. Listening to your audience and listening to your campus community really allows you to provide programming that they’ll actually show up to and engage in.

Bobby Dyer
Bobby is a staff writer at Peake Media. Reach him at

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