One rainy Friday evening in September, first-year student Maria Martin ’22 ran into one of her hallmates. “Hey, do you want to go to that Orange After Dark thing tonight?” she asked. Minutes later, they were dashing through the chilly rain toward the student center, arriving just in time to join that evening’s Orange After Dark (OAD) off-campus adventure.
This spontaneous decision introduced Martin, now a senior majoring in psychology in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, to what became one of the most important—and appreciated—aspects of her college experience: OAD’s late-night programming. OAD offers free and very low cost (no more than $3) activities every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night to all students throughout the academic year.
Making Friends and Memories
On that fateful evening, Martin and her friend found themselves at an indoor trampoline park, which had been reserved just for Syracuse students. Martin laughs when she recalls the incredulous amazement the two of them felt when they realized what they were in for. “There was great music, colorful lights, so much free pizza and cookies, Otto there doing flips—it was just an amazing time and so much fun!” The experience solidified their new friendship and gave Martin a chance to connect with others she recognized from campus. After that introduction, OAD became a central part of her extracurricular life; she was a regular participant at events and activities, and in her sophomore year she joined the OAD event board.
Martin’s experience epitomizes what OAD aims to provide. “Orange After Dark is about creating opportunities for fun and social connection that are accessible, inclusive, safe and easy,” says Lorena Silva, assistant director in the Office of Student Activities. OAD events are all alcohol-free and range from invigorating fun like nighttime snowtubing, roller disco in the Barnes Center at The Arch, laser tag on campus and rowdy rounds of grocery bingo to social events like movie premieres (for which Syracuse buys out the entire theater), bowling, and nights at a video arcade. The program also offers opportunities to relax—like yoga, pet therapy and craft nights.
Orange After Dark is about creating opportunities for fun and social connection that are accessible, inclusive, safe and easy.—Lorena Silva, assistant director in the Office of Student Activities
Established in 2010, OAD is extraordinary among college and university late-night programs for its institutional support and popularity among students, Silva says. “Such a wide diversity of people come to these events—freshmen to graduate students,” she explains. And one of the most gratifying aspects of her job, she adds, is witnessing how OAD activities serve as catalysts for social networks and friendships. “You might come with a group of people you know only a little, and you’ll leave as friends; or you might come alone and leave with a whole lot of newly made connections.”
Guided by Students
Part of what makes OAD programming successful is the level of student input, says Silva. “We gather feedback all the time and adapt to meet students where they are and provide what they’re looking for,” she says. She points to the Black Panther premiere as an example of this principle in action. It was already on the schedule, but as the premiere drew closer it became clear that students wanted to commemorate this historic movie with something particularly special and meaningful. “So we changed gears and within just a few weeks managed to organize a full-scale gala,” she says. “In the end, we rented out seven movie theaters for 1,300 students. We had an actual red carpet, photographers, videographers, paparazzi. Everyone dressed up—dresses, gowns, suits. It was incredible—and truly a memorable celebration of all the achievements this movie represents.”
The OAD staff and student board have also adapted for COVID-19, offering popular online and hybrid events that many students say were a source of relaxed social connection. And some of the activities launched last year—like ‘Pal’-entine’s Day, an event held on Feb. 13 to honor friendships, and the Lunar New Year celebration—will be featured again this year.
OAD organizers are looking forward to the programming planned for this year and the unique energy generated in person. The whole semester’s schedule is available on the OAD website and will be shared in other ways, too—including on a magnet that can be stuck to a fridge or door. “There’s never nothing to do on the weekends, and you never have to be alone if you don’t want to be,” Silva says. “We’re here, we’re awake, we’re doing something—and it’s fun. Come hang out with us!”