In the shadow of the Angell Hall’s Doric columns, more than 2,000 LSA students gathered on the building’s front lawn. They formed long lines leading to hot dog and ice cream vendors. Students flocked to swag tents and snagged goodie bags containing a T-shirt, ball cap, and sunglasses. 

Some students competed against one another in giant versions of popular games like tic-tac-toe, Jenga, and checkers. A few sprawled out on picnic blankets, enjoying the fleeting summer sun. Others grooved to music curated by a local DJ and chatted with old and new friends.

For many students, the new friends included Dean Anne Curzan. Throughout the large gathering, she mingled with students and posed for the occasional selfie. 

This was the scene at the Welcome Back Party in September, the first of many LSA@Play events of the 2021-2022 academic year.

“The pandemic has made connection and community of paramount importance,” Curzan says. “The past four semesters have been very hard on individual members of the LSA community and the bonds of the community as a whole. We created LSA@Play as one way to bring students together, in person.”

Well-Being and Connection

LSA@Play may include fun, large-scale bashes, movie nights, and a homecoming tailgate, but its purpose is far from frivolous. Any gathering or activity under this initiative is an opportunity for students to prioritize self-care, inclusivity, and community.

“I believe in the well-being of the full person, and we want students to feel connected, supported, and healthy in every way—emotionally, mentally, spiritually,” Curzan says. “We can’t or shouldn’t separate the curricular and extracurricular spaces. We want to foster well-being in all that we do.”

For Valentine’s Day, LSA@Play put a twist on a popular social engagement. At Blind Date with a Book Wall, students could pick a book written by an LSA faculty member or alum. The book covers were concealed under newspaper wrapping, and students made their choices based on a four-word description.

In no time, books flew off the wall in the Angell Hall lobby, and the LSA event staff placed a rush order for 150 additional books.

On Feb. 16, an LSA student arrived in the lobby of Angell Hall at 7 a.m. and waited. She had missed  her chance to meet a potential suitor and wasn’t going to let another opportunity pass by. As soon as the second-round of books arrived in the lobby that morning, she made her pick.

“She was almost in tears saying how excited she was,” says Shannon Davis, the LSA events and communications manager in charge of Blind Date with a Book Wall.

Benefits for All Students

All LSA students benefit from LSA@Play, even those who might miss out on a chance to fall in love with a new novel or sip coffee at an LSA@Play poetry night.

Those students still encounter LSA@Play promoted on social media and around campus and understand that administrators are interested in their overall prosperity, not just academic progress.

“It reflects the culture because not a lot of other colleges would do that,” says Morgan Manchester, an undeclared first-year student, who attended a Yoga Out Front event in September.

LSA@Play also enables students to quickly immerse themselves in college life. 

Junior Kaitlin Clark transferred to Michigan in the winter of 2020. Just as she was building on-campus connections, the pandemic hit and she was returned home for virtual lessons. Back on campus a year and a half later, LSA@Play became an avenue to make up for lost time.  

“At the LSA@Play events, I feel included. It definitely feels like I'm a part of a community,” Clark says. “I see new faces and old faces, so it makes a really large campus seem small.”

LSA Pride

Even students who built lasting pre-pandemic friendships see the benefit of LSA@Play events. 

“I’m talking to people in international studies or English or whatever their major is, and I’m getting to hear about the cool things that are happening in fields that otherwise I’d feel disconnected from,” says Madison Miller, a senior double-majoring in biology and Spanish. “I’m reminded of what LSA stands for.”

After attending the Welcome Back Party, Miller and a few friends created a “free food and swag” calendar dedicated to LSA@Play activities and giveaways. After decorating it with random stickers, they stuck it on a friend’s wall in order to never miss an event.

With college students, the allure of complimentary ice cream and T-shirts is powerful. But after going to an event and meeting new and diverse classmates, the LSA gear embodies school spirit.

“It’s fun to go around campus and see people with LSA sweatshirts, LSA water bottles, and LSA hats,” Miller says. “It feels like those people are in the same community as I am. Over spring break, I wore a Michigan LSA sweatshirt and someone said, 'Go Blue!' 

“But it feels nice because it’s not just Michigan. You’re also representing LSA.”

What started with an opportunity to bring returning students together grew into so much more.

“While LSA is the biggest college at U-M, we’re not too big to have a distinct identity for students or to throw a party for students,” Curzan says. “I also want to emphasize that intellectually challenging work, joy, and play are very compatible.”

View this gallery of photos from LSA@Play events


Photography by Michigan Photography, Elizabeth DeCamp, and Kasia Bielak-Hoops