Student unions serve as the heart of the campus, supporting student development, learning, and community building. That makes February perfect for Valentine’s Day themed events where students can fall in love with their unions — and the resources and engagement opportunities offered within.
For years, the University of Houston has also hosted heartfelt appreciation campaigns at its student centers.
The tradition started as a Valentine’s Day gift market where students could purchase candles, jewelry, baked goods, and other gifts for their loved ones. From 2014 to 2015,
the university renovated and expanded its original University Center, an effort that culminated in the creation of Student Center North and Student Center South (collectively known as the Student Centers).
After the transformation was complete, the Valentine’s Day gift market evolved into I Heart My Student Centers — an event designed to promote the new name and services of the Student Centers.
“It’s a great way to ‘show the love’ for all students and especially those not in a romantic relationship,” said Eve Esch, Executive Director, Student Centers at the University of Houston. “One of our best internal outcomes were some pictures of students describing why they ‘heart’ the Student Centers that we were then able to include in our annual report and other marketing items.”
In February 2020 Blum Student Union at Missouri Western University held its annual Heart Your Union appreciation campaign. Students indulged in chocolate-covered strawberries, decorated cookies, and participated in raffles while visiting the booths of various student organizations and offices.
“Students are more likely to get involved with your organization if they have the chance to meet with you,” Director of Student Involvement Jashira Bolden said at the time. “I really think it’s a visibility thing. If you have a table, there’s a good chance you will spark [the] interest of potential members.”
The University of Houston’s Student Centers put a creative spin on the event as the pandemic dragged on last February.
“Last year, we adjusted the theme to be Your Student Centers Hearts You and offered more self-care focused giveaways and activities as part of our pandemic recovery,” Esch said. “This year, we are going back to I Heart My Student Centers.”
The two-hour event will include free music, desserts, giveaways, and an interactive photo booth. At the same time, various departments and offices housed within the Student Centers will have the opportunity to promote their resources.
If you’re thinking about starting up a similar event at your student union, don’t forget that February’s harsh conditions present possible challenges. Flexibility is key: Last year, the Blum Union at Missouri Western University planned to hold its Heart Your Union event during Valentine’s Day week but postponed it until February 20 due to inclement weather.
The University of Houston’s Esch said outdoor events are a possibility in the city’s warm climate, but she’s reserved an indoor space to host the event in the case of rain. With the help of some thoughtful marketing efforts, the event typically attracts 200 to 300 students in total.
“We market I Heart My Student Centers through our on-campus digital signage, social media, inclusion in a weekly newsletter all students receive, and by asking our partners to promote it via their social networks,” Esch said. “We also put yard signs around campus and have physical signs around the building on the day of the event.”
Other Ways to Spread the Love
The possibilities for Valentine’s Day-themed events are nearly endless — just think outside the (heart-shaped) box! The student union at the University of Kansas, for instance, is celebrating the holiday with Choco Love, where students can sample chocolate from around the world.
To coincide with Black History Month in 2020, the Black Student Union at The College of New Jersey presented Black Love, a panel discussion on dating and relationships within the Black community. And in 2021, LGBTQ+ Services at the University of Central Florida held a Valentine’s Day Carnival, reimaging a holiday that is too often marketed toward the straight and cis-gendered.
Looking for something that won’t break the bank? The University of Minnesota holds a Virtual Valentines event allowing students to show appreciation for friends, family, and significant others via email — a fitting solution for celebrating the holiday during a pandemic.
The University of North Carolina–Wilmington’s Office of Student Leadership and Engagement has led an annual Young at Heart program for over 25 years. The engagement part of “Leadership and Engagement” is devoted to engagement within the community, which can include voter engagement, alternative break trips, a program connecting students with non-profit associations in the community, and the Young at Heart program, which is traditionally a Valentine’s Day event for the elderly in the community.
It has included live jazz bands and seen as many as 60 volunteers and 85 guests from the community participated. Inclusivity is taken into consideration when choosing space, as many guests are in wheelchairs or using walkers, and a senior singles group in the community has helped advertise the event since residents at local nursing homes and other facilities are invited.
Student volunteers are recruited through the gerontology program on campus, the “Forget Me Not” student organization, the men’s soccer team, and the fraternities and sororities on campus. Volunteers received training before participation that focused on intent vs. impact, general tips for interactions with older adults, tips for communicating with someone with hearing loss, and conversation starters. In addition to directly socializing with guests, volunteers also helped with check-in, welcoming, helping guests get from their van to the building, refreshments, and door prizes.