On any given Saturday night, if a student wanders into the former taproom of Campus Club — now inhabited by the student-run Coffee Club — they can expect to be greeted by anything from a singer-songwriter jam session to a recycled cardboard crafting night.
With classical music sight-reading night, student stand-up comedy performances, and everything in between, Coffee Club has held a wide array of events, each one more unique than the last. What do all of these events have in common? They’re all alcohol-free.
These weekly events, dubbed “Saturday Nights Sober'' by Coffee Club Events Coordinator Emily Liushen ’22, aren’t cheap to run. One evening, to cater food and coffee for attendees, Liushen ordered seven large pizzas and paid wages for two baristas to work extra hours, totaling a cost of nearly $200.
As it happens, Coffee Club doesn’t foot the bill for these events: the University does. All Saturday Nights Sober events are fully funded by the Alcohol Initiative (AI), a student-led organization that supports a wide variety of campus activities — all, of course, alcohol-free.
“Fundamentally, our event is centered around a sober night,” Liushen said. “No matter what we do, it’s always going to be aligned with [the] Alcohol Initiative’s mission.”
As a program with over 20 years of history, the Alcohol Initiative has been steadfast in its goal of offering an alternative setting to party-centric weekend nights on campus.
“[The Alcohol Initiative is] making sure that there are multiple places on campus for people to be at whatever comfort level they [want to be] and enjoy community somewhere alcohol is not being served,” said Alcohol Initiative Senior Chair Sean Horton ’22, who oversees the student board in charge of distributing AI funds to organizations.
According to Horton, the Alcohol Initiative doesn’t exclusively operate with the goal of deterring students from drinking — the initiative also funds events with food to encourage intoxicated students to eat after drinking and reduce the danger of risky behavior.
Although Horton declined to give an exact amount, he estimated that the Alcohol Initiative’s budget is in the “tens of thousands” of dollars. This large budget gives the Alcohol Initiative the ability to fund clubs hosting almost any activity, as long as they fit under the initiative’s criteria.
“One group that has used us a lot as a resource is Coffee Club,” Horton said. “Anime manga club comes in pretty consistently. We also find [Alcohol Initiative] nights at the climbing wall is a consistent thing that we do, which is pizza from 10[p.m.] to midnight at the climbing wall on Thursdays.”
Other clubs choose to host a single yearly event through the Alcohol Initiative instead of offering frequent, smaller events.
“We’ve done large events for different student groups if they have one event for the whole year,” Horton said. “It’ll be like a couple thousand dollars for a DJ for Princeton Electronica.”
For the Cheese and Bad Movies club — which does exactly what the name says — Alcohol Initiative funds have been crucial to the club’s success.
“We spend about $150 on cheese for every event, and then we pick a really bad movie to watch,” Club President Ricky Feig ’22 said. “At the point at which I took over [club leadership], we were fully dependent on Alcohol Initiative funding.”
According to Feig, clubs like the Cheese and Bad Movies club only exist because of the Alcohol Initiative.
“We get money much more easily through [the] Alcohol Initiative than we would through some of the other [funding sources],” Feig said. “I think that our club would probably not exist if we were dependent on normal ODUS funding, because I don’t think that ODUS would value us in quite the same way.”
It’s likely, too, that Outdoor Action (OA) climbing wall nights wouldn’t be possible without Alcohol Initiative funding.
“At this point, it’s just kind of a given that OA gets money from the Alcohol Initiative every week,” Claire Wayner ’22, who staffs the climbing wall, said. “It’s almost like a line item in the Alcohol Initiative’s budget at this point, which just goes to show how much of a tradition it is and how much of a staple of AI culture it is, if you could call AI having a culture.”
To be sponsored by the Alcohol Initiative, organizations must meet several sets of requirements. These include hosting events on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights, ensuring events are open to all students, and maintaining a steady attendance.
The student-run Alcohol Initiative Board then considers and approves organizations’ applications, a process Feig acknowledges can often be unclear.
“I think there are probably ways in which there could be more information on how to apply for funding,” he said. “All of our dealings with the Alcohol Initiative while I have been in charge have been incredibly easy, but a lot of that, I think, is [due to] the fact that we’re a long-standing club.”
Liushen, the Coffee Club Events Coordinator, also pointed out that funding can sometimes be stretched thin, especially for larger events — a showing of Jordan Peele’s “Candyman” at Coffee Club, for example, netted 50 attendees.
“Seven pizzas is great, but I have to be smart [about where to use funds],” she said. “You have to be very efficient with that little money.”
According to Horton, most clubs have favored small-scale activities over larger events, likely due to the difficulties of transitioning back to in-person campus life. Horton, though, is enthusiastic to continue the Alcohol Initiative’s work.
“Everybody’s struggling right now to assimilate back into normal life,” he said. “We’re a year out of it. But we would love funding large events, because that’s the best thing for our mission.”
Liushen is similarly looking forward to hosting more alcohol-free events.
“I don’t drink, as of pretty recently, and that coincided with me caring a lot about throwing awesome events on Saturday nights for myself to go to,” she said. “It’s worthwhile to make it really fun. I think once you take alcohol out of the question, you’re forced to make it fun in a different way.”
Joshua Yang is a Features contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.