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Lehigh After Dark provides alcohol-free social options for students

High-risk drinking has become a pressing health and safety issue on many college campuses. One way Lehigh is addressing that issue is by giving students more social options that do not focus on alcohol through its Lehigh After Dark program.

Events are typically held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Past events have included weekly trivia nights, entertainment at SteelStacks and a Diner en Blanc “pop-up gala under the stars” that drew rave reviews and helped kick off Lehigh’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

Planning and implementation of the broader Lehigh After Dark program began in 2012, according to Peter Costa, director of health advancement and prevention strategies at Lehigh. The program stemmed from Lehigh’s participation in a National College Health Improvement Project, a collaboration among 34 universities to develop new strategies for reducing high-risk drinking on college campuses. 

Support for a program at Lehigh was bolstered by data collected through the mandatory AlcoholEdu assessment that incoming students are required to take, which indicated that an increasing number of students were coming to campus in search of alcohol-free social options. 

“I like Lehigh After Dark events because they allow me to still go out and have fun when I don’t want to drink,” said Trishna Dave, a senior who has attended many events. “It’s nice to have things to do on the weekends besides typical college activities.”

After each event, the Lehigh After Dark committee sends out surveys to all students who participated.  Costa said the surveys indicate that up to 40 percent of the students say they would have been drinking had they not been at the event. Quantify that over the past two years, he said, and it adds up to more than 1,000 drinking occasions avoided.

Though he acknowledged that not all of those students are considered high-risk drinkers, Costa said, “To me, that’s probably one of the most important health metrics we’re pulling out of Lehigh After Dark.”

Andrea Barker, assistant director of student activities at Lehigh and the operation committee chair person for Lehigh After Dark, helps plan, market and advertise the program’s events.  After being on the committee for three years, she has seen student involvement and participation “ebb and flow” through the program’s different structures. Along with students, the committee has taken on the responsibility of planning some of the events this year.

“We’ve moved away from being just a funding source, to spending half our efforts funding the organizations and the other half planning the major events,” Barker said. 

Lehigh After Dark committee members have found that the most successful events are the larger ones that require additional advertising and promotion, as well as the reoccurring events students come to look forward to, such as weekly trivia night. 

The ‘heartbeat’ of the program

Costa credits the operations team with being the “the heartbeat” of the initiative, but emphasizes the importance of student input and involvement.  He said there are always plenty of event ideas thanks to the operations team but acknowledged that student volunteers were on the planning committee.

“Personally, I think they have the best ideas,” Costa said of student volunteers. “We would like to see more student involvement on the committee.”

Barker said her team typically sees an increase in student application submissions as the year progresses. Once submitted, the planning committee sits down to determine whether the requested events meet the program’s requirements and how much money the students are asking for.

The committee works together when deciding how to allocate funding, with many factors being considered in the decision process, she said.  While funding isn’t often denied, she and other committee members may work with the students to determine how much financial support and coaching the group may need to organize and execute a successful event.

Meg Munley, a research analyst for Lehigh and a member of the Student Affairs assessment committee that analyzes data for Lehigh After Dark, found that women generally attend the events at slightly higher rates than men, and that on-campus students attend the events more frequently than students who live off-campus.  While involvement in Greek life does not seem to affect attendance, first-year students are more likely to participate in events than upperclassmen. Most notably, Munley found that students of color are more likely to attend the events than white students.

Statistics may only tell part of the story. Munley hesitated to draw concrete conclusions about the program’s effectiveness from the data collected.

“It’s been effective, but it could be more effective,” Munley said. “We have room for improvement. It has clearly decreased some amount of drinking, but we're focused on how to improve our efforts so that we can make an even bigger dent.”

Munley acknowledged that, along with prevention of high-risk drinking, a major objective of the program is to support students and provide them with social opportunities that don’t involve alcohol. Many students have expressed their appreciation for events like these, she said.

According to a survey sent out after the kickoff event for 2015, the majority of students who attended said it was their primary social activity for the evening.  Only 10.2 percent said they went before attending another activity focused on alcohol. 

Munley said she expects higher attendance this year due to increased efforts by the planning committee.

While Lehigh After Dark aims to reduce the prevalence and severity of high-risk drinking through the provision of high quality alcohol-free social options, Barker said operational goals this year are to increase participation and visibility, to make the brand stronger and to create programming that is more attractive to students.

Overall, Barker said there has been an increase in how positively students respond to Lehigh After Dark, and that each year, the program is seeing a greater presence on campus.

“Students are showing up, bringing their friends and talking about it,” Barker said. “So we know we’re doing a good job of providing social options for students on campus.”
Story by Emma Fried

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