Iowa State Memorial Union

ISU AfterDark Goes Hybrid

Katie Haygood and the ISU AfterDark students make an ISU tradition safe to attend

Numbers don’t lie, and that number shows that attending ISU AfterDark is a beloved Iowa State tradition. This tradition was threatened in March 2020 as the cloud of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 descended on our campus, but that cloud didn’t dampen Katie Haygood’s determination. “ISU students are resilient,” she says, “and this program is even more important during the pandemic because there are fewer events on campus for student engagement.”

Katie is the program coordinator – and adviser – for several programs in the Memorial Union (MU) run by student organizations, including AfterDark. Serving this role means that in addition to advising student leaders in putting together the event, which happens three times each semester, Katie is also responsible for much of the planning, paperwork, and permissions it takes on the back end for the events to be successful. When classes at Iowa State went virtual, many planned events across campus were cancelled, including the April AfterDark, but Katie and the AfterDark students were determined to bring the program back for the fall. After all, AfterDark’s mission has always been to provide safe, entertaining, substance-free programming for students, and students needed that more than ever during a pandemic.

The AfterDark students, with Katie at the helm, decided their best course of action was to make the event hybrid, so that folks who weren’t able to leave their homes could still participate, while those who wanted to get away for a few hours could come to the MU and have some fun. The ISU AfterDark student organization has historically partnered with the Student Union Board to bring entertainers to campus for the event, so together the two groups decided to host the entertainers as a virtual part of the program. “Both orgs agreed that it was not COVID-19 friendly to bring someone popular to campus in the midst of the pandemic,” Katie said. “We ultimately decided to go virtual for the guest entertainment, because that gave the opportunity for Iowa State students to continue to have a tailored experience with the guest star.” Last fall, they brought comedians Preacher Lawson and Pete Davidson to the screens of Iowa State students, as well as online personality Demetrius Harmon. AfterDark also organized virtual events like getting caricatures drawn over Zoom, and online dance classes.

But that wasn’t all.

The fun of attending AfterDark has always been running into an old friend in the hallways of the MU, or even making a new friend or two while playing Bingo or while waiting (and sweating) in line outside the Workspace. Katie wanted to find a way to continue to offer those connections to students, so the next step was to figure out how to make the in-person event safe to attend. “We increased sanitization in Bingo, provided socially distanced markers for the hallway, hand sanitizer throughout the MU, and we made sure participants were wearing face coverings at all times. We also made the hard decision to not provide food at the event to ensure that face coverings stayed on,” Katie laughs. “The biggest remorse from our student leaders was from not being able to offer free Panda Express. Panda is extremely popular, and they were bummed to not have it as an option, but they understand the importance of health and safety at an event.”

Even with the absence of free orange chicken, students are still enjoying ISU AfterDark. In a survey completed by the Campus Life department, 94% of attendees agree that ISU AfterDark positively impacts their student experience. When students come to the MU for AfterDark, they can bowl and play pool in CyBowl & Billiards, do some crafts in the Workspace, and attend events like ThinkFast trivia and Create-A-Critter. These activities all have COVID-19 safety measures in place, including required face coverings, distancing, and sanitation. But the students’ favorite activity at AfterDark year over year seems to be Bingo. “Students are dedicated to Bingo,” said Katie. Iowa State Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Younger found that out for herself when she called Bingo during the November 6, 2020 event. “She was a hoot and had so much energy!” Katie said. “Dr. Younger cracked up when she called ‘B4’ and ‘O69,’ because the students shout back when those are called.”

Katie and the ISU AfterDark student organization are planning three more ISU AfterDark events for the spring that should look a lot like the hybrid fall events. Katie said, “We plan to have both virtual and in-person options. We are hopeful that things will get better with vaccinations and fewer cases, but we do not want to take any risks.”

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