For many Northwestern students, engaging in comfortable childhood events is a way to unwind and destress. Thumbnail image by Olivia Abeyta / North by Northwestern

It’s a college Friday night. Time to choose your own adventure. Some students persevere through the inevitable (and chilly) “L” delay while waiting to go into Chicago. Others scroll through Instagram, hoping to stumble across an address for a “fundy” fundraiser party that raises money for an on-campus performer they’ve never heard of.

Instead, you opt to see Puss in Boots: The Last Wish on the big screen.

“It’s always just nice to see a simple story,” said McCormick third-year Ian Go. While Go didn’t plan on watching the latest installment of the DreamWorks franchise, the strong reviews sold him.

Go also enjoys other animated films from DreamWorks and Disney, like Ratatouille – he doesn’t discriminate against movies marketed toward kids and instead will just appreciate a good movie regardless of its target demographic.

Because this content isn’t always marketed toward college students, some students seem to be reaching for their pasts – from Disney movie nights to pony therapy sessions in Norris.

What the expert says… on kickball and cartoons

Journalist Christopher Noxon – who has been featured in The New Yorker and Los Angeles Magazine – knows this phenomenon well. In his 2006 book Rejuvenile, Noxon explores how some grown-ups chase childhood excitement, seen through the rise of adult kickball leagues and the appeal of Tweety Bird apparel.

“A lot of the people that I spoke to are very emphatic that they like what they like because they've always liked it and they're not giving it up,” Noxon said.

While college students are just on the cusp of adulthood, Noxon noticed how channeling your inner child can help you gear up for change, something that could apply to students planning a big move or entering the professional world.

“You don't want to leave your old self behind as you get into this new stage,” Noxon said. “I don't think that's a regression. I think that's a kind of evolution.”

Noxon said he notices childhood excitement comes in “waves,” with some generations being more prone than others, like Generation X and early millennials. Noxon cited 9/11 and the launch of the internet as major turning points in modern history where adults revived their inner child to adapt to change.

Where college students fit in

Some NU groups, like Happiness Club, intentionally base their programming on shared nostalgia. Happiness Club hosts kite-flying and bubble-blowing meetups to help students get to know each other in a low-key (and sometimes sentimental) setting.

“It brings back good memories of the last time that you were flying a kite or the last time where you didn't have to worry about job applications or homework,” said Sophie Chang, the treasurer of Happiness Club.

From pottery birthday parties to elementary school art classes, arts and crafts can also be a way for students to connect with their younger selves. ARTica Studios in the Norris University Center is a space for students to explore their creativity. According to Weinberg third-year and ARTica supervisor Jane Clarke, a handful of students use the studio for more advanced projects while less experienced creatives gravitate toward more casual events, like painting their own pottery and making paper crafts.

Checking out ARTica’s paint-your-own pottery (Photo by Elizabeth Casolo / North by Northwestern)

Clarke sees arts and crafts as a way of relaxing and de-stressing, which was especially relevant during the pandemic’s peak. Clarke said that, even beyond the pandemic, crafts can calm students as they encounter formative moments in their young adulthood, like managing academic pressures at college.

“I think everybody's an artist in some way,” Clarke said. “They're just using our space at different points in their time at Northwestern.”

Weinberg fourth-year and ARTica visitor Cindy Shou said art has always been a part of her life, from taking oil painting classes in high school to learning about art history. Even though Shou doesn’t major in art, she enjoys relaxing through hands-on projects.

“I don't actively seek the nostalgia,” Shou said. “[Art] is a nice sense of consistency as I go through my stages of life.”

Along with inviting her friends to ARTica events, Shou hosts “boba and paint nights” in her apartment, inspired by an event at Ayers, her former residential college.

Away from campus, Evanston Games & Cafe president Eli Klein said Northwestern students compose only a small portion of his business’s clientele. People of all ages are drawn to more nostalgic board games, especially ones with high “replayability,” with new experiences each time you play.

Klein plans to move the cafe from its current location near Davis Street into the former Terra & Vine space by the renovated movie theater, hoping to appeal to upperclassmen with bar service. While Northwestern students do not currently dominate the cafe, Klein acknowledged certain board games can allow students to recall fond times. According to Klein, the students who visit tend to enjoy more well-known, accessible games, like Catan, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne.

“For the Northwestern students, I think there is more of a memory of when the world had not accelerated quite this fast,” Klein said.

How change plays a role

As students navigate the day-to-day challenges of entering young adulthood, the world faces the socioeconomic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and a tense political climate. According to Noxon, this cocktail of global disarray helps adults – including college students – be more flexible in the face of change, like they were during their youth.

“When we're faced with these moments of real crisis and huge shifts, we go back to the place in our developmental selves when we were the most adaptable, and that is childhood,” Noxon said.