On any given Friday or Saturday night, University students can watch a movie, bowl, play bingo and board games or listen to live music – all under one roof at Coffman Union.
On Saturday, first-year student Alex Rykken was walking around campus, looking for something to do. He said he found Scrabble at Gophers After Dark.
The late-night program began this semester to offer students a place to go for free or cheap activities on weekend nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The program follows a trend at college campuses, providing students with cheap and fun entertainment. It has also arguably become one of the biggest weekly campus gatherings of students Friday and Saturday nights.
It started because University officials wanted a program on campus that would be a late-night alternative to parties and underage drinking on weekends for on- and off-campus students.
Late-night programming is especially happening at universities in the Big Ten, Gophers After Dark Director Erich Martin said. University officials said they looked at a successful program at Penn State University called LateNight-PennState.
Jerry Rinehart, the University of Minnesota’s associate vice provost for student affairs, said one of program’s goals was “to make sure students had more options than going out drinking or to a party on the weekend.”
Rinehart said he believes it’s the first time a program of this kind has been on campus.
Christina Kordiolis, a graduate student adviser for the program, said organizers wanted to increase the sense of community on campus.
Gophers After Dark spends between $1,500 and $2,000 on average each weekend paying for entertainment, room use and work support, Martin said.
Money from Student Services Fees, sponsorships and other areas pay the expenses, she said.
As a fifth-year student, Raquel Booms said, she’s been ripped off for years having to pay the student fees. But she said she doesn’t mind some fees going toward the program, because she is directly benefited when she goes to Gophers After Dark to play bingo.
Booms said the program could cut down on its “random” activities, such as making videos, to trim its use of student fees.
First-year student Lindsay Hefferan occasionally goes to Gophers After Dark but said some students might not appreciate the University of Minnesota using their student fees for a program they don’t use.
A new idea
Any new program can have a slow start. But Kordiolis said Gophers After Dark has gone well, considering it’s in its first semester.
When the program started in September, an average of 600 to 700 students showed up on a single night, Martin said. Three months later, average attendance is more than 1,200 students a night.
“I think it’s growing as far as people are getting more familiar with it,” Martin said. “The goal is to make it a destination.”
In the beginning, he said, he hoped nightly attendance would be in the thousands.
According to Gophers After Dark surveys, the main reason students attend is because
it’s usually free. The program has charged students to see bands.
Rinehart said attendance numbers show the program is having a good start. But because it’s relatively new, it’s still catching on, Rinehart said.
He said he guessed the predominant attendees are first-year students who live on campus.
“We’d like to have programs that would be attractive to even more,” he said.
Kordiolis said a wider base of students could come if so many of the activities didn’t favor undergraduates who live close to Coffman Union in residence halls or apartments.
Running the program
Co-coordinator Siuleen Thai said she uses between five and 10 hours per week to plan a variety of events for Gophers After Dark. She also said she tries to get student feedback.
“We keep in mind to have a variety of events. We like to try everything at least once,” she said.
On Friday, Gophers After Dark threw its biggest bash of the semester. The Coca-Cola/University Beverage Partnership and the program collaborated to get students out of the cold and inside Coffman Union for a beach party.
Kordiolis estimated 3,000 students came. Activities included an appearance from Minnesota Vikings player Bryant McKinnie, live band karaoke, a sandless beach cookout and a movie.
When 10 p.m. rolls around on a Friday or Saturday, that’s when students usually have time to enjoy the weekend.
Rinehart said it’s important to “recognize students’ lives don’t end at 10 o’clock at night.”
When students’ wallets are empty and they need something to do on the weekends, they want free entertainment, he said.
“College kids don’t have a lot of money,” first-year student Sara Payne said. “And it’s just nice to have something to do on the weekends.”