19 Alcohol-Free Program Ideas that Perfectly Engage Students Away from Partying

A lot of popular media perpetuates the narrative that college is an endless party with free-flowing alcohol enjoyed by every student. 

However, iGen students are challenging that tale as old as time.  Most  iGen students like to follow rules and are not interested in engaging in high-risk drinking. The bad news is that they believe their peers do not share these values, and that assumption may persuade them to participate in high-risk drinking. 

One way to counter this phenomenon on your campus is to provide alternative events and activities for your students to check out on the weekends and evenings. Hosting alcohol-free events like these give your students welcoming spaces to get to know friends and relax without feeling pressured to drink. 

Performances

1. Movie Night

Host a movie night on campus or in a local movie theater. Provide snacks and show the latest releases to entice your students to attend. If your library has a copy of the movie, you can show it for free — as long as your institution has purchased viewing rights. I’ve found this article helpful to reference.. 

2. Comedian

Book an auditorium on campus along with a comedian to entertain your students for an evening. To find out which standups your students are enjoying, check out who students are following on TikTok or Instagram. Or since the most popular acts may be outside of your budget, work with your favorite artist agency to find an up-and-coming act that would be a good fit for your campus. 

3. Theater Night

If your campus is located near a robust theater scene,  take students to see a play or musical. Contact theaters about group rates and book a bus to take students to see a show! Even rural cities and small towns often have community theater shows or campus theater departments that put on shows that’ll interest students. 

4. Hypnotist

Hypnotists are a hilarious option for a live show. Before the show, connect with the hypnotist to give them specific campus information that they can weave into their performance. This will make the evening even more engaging and memorable for your students. 

5. Karaoke

With thousands of karaoke videos available for free on YouTube, karaoke has never been more accessible. Set up a speaker with a microphone and create a structured competition. Or you can simply provide the space, materials, and party snacks then let students run their own karaoke evening, competition-free. 

6. Open-Mic Night

College communities are teeming with secret musical and comedic talents just waiting to be discovered. Host an open-mic night for your students to show off with their garage bands or practice their comedic tight fives. Leave it unstructured or turn it into a hyped-up competition to encourage engagement. 

Games

7. Laser Tag

If there’s no laser tag arena nearby, you can partner with a group to bring laser tag to you! Set it up in your union or quad to give students a late-night game to remember. 

8. Board Game Night

Collect all the best board games and set up stations for your students to enjoy. Provide snacks like wings and mozzarella sticks to keep students full. You can structure a board game night with a tournament or by rotating players, or you can leave it unstructured, allowing students to just enjoy the hangout space.  

9. The Roommate Game

Invite roommates to sign up to compete for the title of best roommates. Enlist a charismatic host to lead the show, based on the retro Newlywed Game, and encourage audience participation. The roommates who answer the most questions about each other correctly  will win the competition. You can also hire an entertainment company to bring the Roommate Game to you. 

10. Game Show Night

You can DIY a game show night by having student organizations decorate, plan the games, and promote the event. Or you can partner with a company that can bring game equipment to you for a fun night of Price is Right or Family-Feud-style entertainment. 

Arts & Crafts

11. Knitting Night

Connect with a crafty student group to see if anyone in their membership can teach students to knit or crochet for an evening. Supply affordable yarn and needles, put on a relaxing playlist, provide Chex Mix and cookies, and let the students enjoy their knitting night. 

12. Bob Ross Paint-Along

Choose one of many Bob Ross episodes on YouTube to play for students to paint along to. All you need to provide is paint, brushes, canvasses, and a space for students to paint happy little trees all evening long. 

13. DIY Ceramic Planters

Pick up some plain white planters, acrylic paint, paint markers, and sharpies and let students decorate a planter they can take home. You can also provide succulents that students can plant to keep in their residence halls or homes. 

14. Adult Coloring Book Night

Purchase a variety of adult coloring books and host an evening of coloring. Play music and provide snacks alongside the colored pencils and crayons to give your students a calm, creative evening. 

15. Canvas Painting

Pick up some canvases and paint, then invite students to create wall art. You can choose from several mediums including watercolors, acrylic paints, or crayons or colored pencils. Buy gems, rhinestones, feathers, and other things students can glue on to aim for a 3D look. It’s probably best to avoid glitter if you don’t want to work overtime vacuuming for hours on end.  

Outdoors

16. Campfire and Smores

Host a campfire evening on campus. If your campus does not have a fire ring, work with your facilities department to design a space that would be appropriate. Set up a s’mores bar and play music or bring a guitar to keep students entertained for hours. 

17. Field Day

Host a field day with tug-of-war, water balloon races, three-legged races and other fun outdoor games. Students can sign up to compete in teams and to foster friendly competition, awards  gift cards to the team that wins the most events. This one might be a best fit for a gameday alternative event with medical staff at the ready. 

18. Capture the Flag

Competing residence halls can play Capture the Flag against each other for a memorable outdoor evening. Be sure to clearly mark or describe the playing boundaries and design t-shirts to designate between teams. 

19. Outdoor Concert

If you have a large enough entertainment budget, work with a company or artist to bring someone well-known to your campus. You can partner with several offices across campus to help cover the cost of artists that students enjoy and will be excited to see perform. If funds are extra tight, collaborate with a student organization to find a student or local artist who may be more affordable. 

What unique events does your campus host for students who want alcohol-free options? We’d love to learn your ideas! Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.

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Kacie Otto

About the author: Kacie Otto is the Violence Prevention Specialist at Marquette University. If she’s not knitting or reading a book about feminism, you might find her at a campsite or in a thrift shop. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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