Since its inception in 2011, Cardinal Nights has transitioned from focusing on alcohol-free events to programming based on student feedback, providing a wide variety of entertainment choices for drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
“Cardinal Nights has changed most in the perspective of what it is and who it’s for,” said Trista Shideler, assistant director and community engagement coordinator at the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE). “First, it was seen as a program for just people who didn’t drink, but for us, we wanted to make it something unique. I think the most important thing we show is that students don’t need alcohol to have fun.”
A campus climate survey in 2011 influenced the goals of Cardinal Nights to provide appealing social programming on campus. According to Shideler, the survey indicated that most students needed alcohol to have fun on campus; however, after Cardinal Nights started playing a larger role in campus life, many students reported in a survey in 2013 that they did not need alcohol in order to have fun.
Cardinal Nights has widened its reach, attempting to make its social programming an appealing choice not just for non-drinkers, but for all students on campus. Its efforts have been recognized on a national scale, as well – this past year, Cardinal Nights was awarded best national campus programming through Campus Activities Magazine with over 26,000 attendees and 170 events.
“We try not to focus so much on the alcohol-free portion. We are not just for non-drinkers; we are for everyone – that’s really where we have grown and changed,” Shideler said. “We want everyone to have a great Stanford experience, and that comes in many different shapes and sizes.”
“I think parties are great and fun, but students, at a certain point, just want to do something different. And that’s where we come in,” she added. “We have worked with Greek life, the ASSU, co-ops and various student groups to provide fun times for everybody.”
Shideler attributes the shift in Cardinal Night’s perspective to making students’ requests and interests the priority.
“I think what makes a difference is asking what people want and providing it,” Shideler said. “When we see that there is a certain event that tickets are selling out for rapidly, we try to do more things like that.”
Students have also recognized Cardinal Nights’ greater emphasis on incorporating widely reaching programming.
“I appreciate the options that Cardinal Nights provides for all students,” said Soraya Karimi ’18. “Last year I saw it as, ‘Instead of drinking, go to Cardinal Nights events.’ But this year, the focus is more about the fun things that they plan, like watching ‘Inside Out’ or participating in laser tag.”
Aside from Shideler, who is the sole staff member in charge of Cardinal Nights, the organization is student-driven, with a staff of 11 students who are largely responsible for planning the events.
“The most valuable part of being a part of Cardinal Nights is being able to help provide programming that everyone enjoys and knowing that I was part of something that someone had fun at,” said Shayna Blue ’17, a new staff member. “Last year, I loved bingo, and this year I’m planning bingo. It’s cool being able to go full circle with my involvement.”
Even though Cardinal Nights has shied away from emphasizing being alcohol-free as the focus of its programming, it is held under the OAPE, and the events are all alcohol-free.
“Our office does not tell people what to do,” Shideler said. “Students are adults and are going to make their own decisions, and we want them to be smart about those decisions and talk about how alcohol plays into their goals and ideas for the future.”
In addition to organizing its own events, Cardinal Nights provides funding for Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs).
“As long as VSOs’ programming follow our purview of being on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night after 5 o’clock, being open to the general Stanford community and being alcohol free, we are happy to help provide [for] these events,” Shideler said. “We want students to have a choice in what goes on and what they get to do.”
Cardinal Nights aims to broaden its outreach to graduate students and maintain national-award-worthy programming through arranging activities like trips to Disneyland, concerts and laser tag excursions.
“We want to continue to provide really awesome programming for students short of buying out every theater in San Francisco when a Broadway show comes,” Shideler said. “We want to show students that there are really cool experiences that can add your memory bank at Stanford, and it’s great to be a part of that.”
Contact Pallavi Krishnarao at pallavik ‘at’ stanford.edu.