On the Friday night before the Michigan-Michigan State football game three weeks ago, thousands of students wandered from bar to bar and party to party, enjoying the start of the weekend.

Meanwhile, a group of about 500 students was partying in the Michigan Union at a get-together sponsored by the University. In the place of alcohol, there was a movie, free food and karaoke.

The University of Michigan’s UMix program serves as an alternative for students looking for alcohol-free entertainment, hosting between five and six events per semester from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday nights. The program, which has been running for three years at the University, draws between 400 and 600 students to the Union for each event, officials said.

University Librarian Paul Courant, an expert on higher education, said programs like UMix are part of a larger trend of colleges responding to an increase in binge drinking among students.

“There is certainly a sense in the student affairs community that there’s more binge drinking, more heavy drinking and more days on which people drink. With the advent of cell phones, the party can move quickly and out of control,” he said. “Education institutions are taking more responsibility for at least trying to give students who might be uncomfortable with drinking opportunities that are a good alternative.”

Penn State University was among the first schools to start offering students an alternative to the typical drinking and partying scene. John Harlowe, the director of “Late Night Penn State,” said the school’s president, Graham Spanier, came up with the idea for the program 12 years ago.

“He was criticizing students for having a one-track mind as far as social life and the students fired back,” Harlowe said. “He challenged them and they challenged him.”

Harlowe said Penn State offers programs every Friday and Saturday night, drawing upwards of 7,000 students per year. Similar to Michigan’s program, each Penn State event has a movie, craft activity and board games, he said.

Other notable schools that have similar programs include the University of Florida and West Virginia University.

Courant said schools display inclusivity by offering programs like Umix and Late Night Penn State.

“It’s bad manners to have all of the options be either ‘Drink or look like you’re odd,’ so one should provide a broader range of options,” he said.

But UMix director Karla Robinson said the program is also geared toward students who drink, not just those who abstain.

“Something we’re trying really hard to do is market this program as a late night social event, and not as an alternative program,” she said. “We just kind of bill it as a late-night social activity.”

UMix has had some success luring drinking students away from the typical Friday night party. According to a University Health Services survey, about a third of UMix attendees drink occasionally on Friday nights, and of that group, more than two-thirds said they drink less on nights they attend UMix.

Most Umix attendees said they come to events because the easygoing setting helps them feel comfortable without drinking.

While painting a pumpkin and watching other her peers belt out the words to the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” Kinesiology junior Kara Miller expressed that sentiment.

“I don’t drink, so there’s not a ton to do at night other than like hang out with friends or watch a movie, so it’s just something else,” she said.

LSA junior Aissatou Barry, the UMix student coordinator, said people in the program don’t view those who party before coming to Umix any differently than those who come to the Union right at 10 p.m.

“A lot of students we have just come at midnight. We don’t mind that actually. They’re not taking advantage of us in any way,” she said.

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