College Night is not only a vibrant tradition on UM’s campus—it’s one of the most unique collegiate events in the nation.
Since 1919, UM students have participated in a school spirit competition unlike any other. First designed to celebrate the introduction of a 4-year college curriculum, the early celebrations were competitions between classes. In 1921, to celebrate UM’s 25th anniversary, students divided into two teams, the Gold Side and the Purple Side. Growing in importance and attracting large numbers of alumni, it became the date for the observance of homecoming activities. It is a unique phenomenon in higher education — a pair of competitive, original, student-produced musical shows augmented by concurrent competitive athletic events.
In 2000, College Night was named a “Local Legacy” by the Library of Congress. It has an exhibit there in the American Folklife Center.
Throughout the celebration, points are accumulated through pre-production events including sporting competitions and the productions themselves. The crowning star of UM’s College Night is the musical productions. Each side produces an original musical. Everything is created by current students — scripts, music, lyrics, costumes, choreography, sets and lighting.
Mixers and pre-production events occur during the Fall semester and actual production work begins early in the Spring semester. Each side tries to keep its preparations secret until the first performance during homecoming week.
Juggling rehearsals and classes, members of each side give up weekends and work into the wee hours of the mornings to perfect their productions until homecoming week, usually the second week of February. Independent judges review and assign points to the Saturday night shows, and these points are added to pre-production points, revealing either a Gold Victory or a Purple Victory.
Though at a passing glance it can appear to be a short-lived event, the College Night experience lasts a lifetime.
College Night has been described as the “crest of the wave of school spirit,” but it is so much more. The leadership and camaraderie necessary to create the productions with such limited time and resources build strong friendships that endure beyond the college years.