The reaction we received last month when I told a roomful of University of North Alabama students and off-campus guests that our second showing would be Attack on Titan was a clear sign we were doing something right. The excitement in the room was energizing.
This was exactly what we had hoped for when we scheduled our “Anime Night” series in March, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced a six-month postponement. The Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion, the Department of Communications, and the Office of International Affairs are collaborating to bring UNA’s international and domestic students together through anime. We celebrate it as an art form, discuss animation styles and narrative arcs, and appreciate the literary qualities of animated storytelling. All of it occurs with pandemic-related safety precautions in place; face masks and social distancing are required.
“Anime Night” is designed to be fun, but it is also intended to enhance the campus experience for UNA students. For international students, it’s an invitation to meet with domestic students. Though the University of North Alabama has done very well recruiting international students during the past few years, UNA is not an internationalized campus. That can make it feel isolating for international students. We want to make sure they’re not just attending UNA, they’re experiencing it.
Anime also appeals to a particular group of fans, and “Anime Night” is a deliberate effort to show them they have a community here that includes faculty and staff. It can be empowering when students learn their professors and supervisors share a common interest. Some of the most rewarding moments have occurred before the anime presentation, when students start conversations about the night’s event, and afterward, when they stay long past the end of the episode to talk about the entire series or recommend their favorite ones.
Extending the Series
We would have been thrilled if a few people showed up. About 40 students have attended each showing (including an area high school student who drives close to an hour to get there), and three additional members of UNA’s faculty and staff joined us for Attack on Titan. The response has been so positive that we’re adding a special Halloween showing later this month and have decided to continue “Anime Night” through the spring semester. We’ve also learned several lessons from our experiences so far.
- You don’t need permission to create communities on campus. If you have an idea to bring people together, make it happen.
- Invite others to share your enthusiasm about something you enjoy. You’ll find students and colleagues who are interested in it, too.
- Don’t worry about the numbers. Focus on planning a fun, meaningful experience for those who attend, whether it’s three or 30.
- Take suggestions. Asking students to recommend future programs gets them involved and increases the likelihood they’ll come back next time.