For more than 51 years, UNLV has celebrated one of its longest running traditions: homecoming.
The activity-filled, themed week during the fall semester features a variety of events like window painting, the Rebel variety show, and most spirited Rebel, and philanthropy. Homecoming is traditionally a time for students and faculty alike to get involved and show their school spirit. But not every student was quite so moved by the spirit, according to hospitality student and homecoming co-coordinator Colleen Hoyt.
“Homecoming was just not for them,” Hoyt said.
There was a history, homecoming co-coordinator Bianca Barbaryan said, that homecoming was targeted toward students who are involved in fraternities and sororities. Past homecoming primarily focused on the involved students and competition, and less on school spirit and pride. As members of the Rebel Events Board, Hoyt and Barbaryan refocused their work to recapture that sense of school spirit by redefining homecoming’s entire culture.
With a year of research under their belts, they created a plan to engage the entire campus community, building on established homecoming traditions and adding new ones to the mix. They partnered with numerous student organizations to make philanthropy the main staple of this year’s homecoming. This past year alone, UNLV tripled its charitable contributions from the week of events. The students raised more than $5,100 in cash and gift cards for Paradise Elementary School.
The philanthropic approach is similar to how Top Tier universities around the nation have tackled homecoming, school spirit, and the community. While that provides a blueprint, UNLV is mostly made up of commuters so they had to factor in those circumstances. In spring 2016, the Rebel Events Board solicited feedback from the students and ask what they wanted to see change and/or included; philanthropy was the answer. The board had to get creative and build events that worked best for UNLV.
“We thought of different ways to incorporate community and competition at the same time,” Hoyt said. “How can we tailor this event to fit the UNLV community?”
The next step; find ways for Fraternity and Sorority Life to collaborate with and work together with students who are involved in other organizations. It was important to Hoyt and Barbaryan to create the opportunity for student organizations to choose their own adventure and participate in events that they were capable of participating in. Allowing student groups to choose to participate this way allows them to take charge of their homecoming experience.
Previously, very few students outside of Fraternity and Sorority Life took part in the homecoming competitions. Black Student Organization, Student Athletes, and Residence Hall Association were the only other groups who competed
“We want to have more than the same two groups competing against each other every year,” Barbayan said.
Hoyt and Barbayan actively looked for ways to promote inclusivity, and dispel the stereotype that Homecoming was solely for Fraternity and Sorority Life students.
The solution was to incorporate competitive fundraising activities like Penny Wars, Box Top collections, and a Blanket Tie-A-Thon — competitions that brought all student organizations together. The students were able to see that they had a positive impact on their community, and because of that, students wanted to become more involved.
The competition heated up enough to secure a big donation for Paradise Elementary School when it came to Penny Wars. Two teams get a jar, and every penny they collect scores positive points. But any currency dropped in the jar other than pennies knocks points off the overall score. Down to the final seconds, students were rallying sabotaging each other raising the most money “for the children.”
“We had team dropping $100 bills in their opponents jar,” Barbaryan said. “They knew the money was going to a good cause and they wanted their team to win.”
With a game plan combining community outreach and competition in place, the planning committee is already looking toward this year’s homecoming with an eye on activities that are even more community-minded and inclusive. The Rebel Events Board and the new homecoming coordinators are ready to build on this new foundation and formulate strong continued collaborations with alumni and athletics.