The Center for Student Involvement plans to host at least four more block parties this academic year, in order to create campus programs that are welcoming and available to the whole campus community, director Alison Bartel Keller said.
These upcoming events will follow the widely attended Trucks and Tunes block party held Aug. 30 in the Greek theater and Blocktoberfest on Sept. 21 on the Intramural Fields.
The decision to create these events sprang from a desire to create more inclusive spaces and programming, Keller said, adding that the concept was developed in collaboration with SpiderBoard and UR’s student governments.
“What we were looking for was to create opportunities for everybody to be part of events that would be a community for the whole campus,” Keller said.
Keller said that the events were conceptualized as alternatives to siloed programming – events that serve specific groups rather than the entire campus community.
Trucks and Tunes, the first of these block parties, attracted more than 900 students, said Lauren Foligno, assistant director for programming at the Center for Student Involvement, despite looming storms. Over a quarter of UR’s undergraduate student body attended the event in the two hours it was open that Thursday evening.
“We were supposed to be open until 8:30, so it easily would have gotten over a thousand,” Foligno said.
The event featured a DJ, free t-shirts, desserts provided by University Dining Services and food trucks from around the city of Richmond, with each student receiving $15 in vouchers to spend at the trucks. Vendors present provided a wide range of food, with trucks in attendance including Gelati Celesti, Monica’s Crepes, Happy Empanada and other local eateries.
“I think the food trucks were extraordinarily happy and really want to have additional opportunities,” Keller said.
A team studied UR’s approved vendor list to select which trucks would serve students at the party and determined which vendors ought to be added based on student demand, then reached out to those businesses, Keller said.
“We really tried to diversify our options,” Foligno said, adding that some students wanted to see different trucks than those considered "traditional" on campus.
In terms of revenue, each truck was within about $100 of the other trucks at the event, Foligno said, meaning all offerings were wanted, which was a goal for the team at the Center for Student Involvement.
Junior Kyla Coleman attended and said she was impressed by how much food the vouchers could buy and that she liked the variety of foods.
Although Coleman said she thought the lines were long, she said she appreciated that UR offered desserts for free.
Staff at the Center for Student Involvement are using student feedback gathered at the event, as well as through Welcome Week surveys, to fine-tune future block parties.
At Blocktoberfest, like Trucks and Tunes, there were food trucks, a DJ and games, but the event took place later at night to enhance the social factor and give social opportunity to all the students on campus, Foligno said.
The social quality of the block parties may become even more important in light of the Interfraternity Council’s recent modifications to lodge event planning, intended to comply with national fraternity guidelines, which restrict guest lists for events where alcohol is served. These guidelines, to some, prove worrying.
Justina Choo, a junior, said she worried these alterations would add pressure on first-year students.
“This campus consists of a lot of predatory males," Choo said. "That's the reality of it. I don't know how much more danger female, and even male, first-years are going to be in because of this new hierarchy system.”
Senior Tyler York, president of Richmond College Student Government Association, acknowledged that IFC’s changes would be unpopular with UR students.
York said the changes would fan the flames to push the university to come up with new spaces for students to gather on weekends, spaces that aren’t as centered around fraternities as they’ve been in the past.
With these changes on the horizon, the development of the block parties is occurring at a crucial moment for UR’s social culture.
Keller explained, “Because of what the lodge culture has been, there has been a void for a lot of other opportunities for collective and creative programming.”
UR’s location further from a downtown area than many other colleges is something that creates a different dynamic the Center for Student Involvement must work with, Keller said.
“I think that the concept of block parties has a potential to draw groups of people together, even if they're from different clubs or schools, because food and entertainment usually is a good motivation for people to intermingle,” Choo said.
York said he was similarly optimistic about the potential for the events, which had been presented to student government on Sept. 12.
“I think the block parties provide a really good new venue for student social interaction that's going to be really inclusive,” York said. ”We’re definitely going to come out to support, and we hope students on campus will come out.”
Of the future creative programming, Keller said, “You’re going to see some things that you’ve never seen on the campus before, and I’ve been here a long time, so I know that.”
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