Profile of a Party School

News & Politics
�When you�re young and irresponsible, well, you�re young and irresponsible.�
– Jenna Bush, from the Bush twins� recent RNC speech

Jamie got in trouble for public intoxication during her first weekend at Ohio University (OU). As a consequence she was required to take an online class called AlcoholEdu. She describes the class as �a long online video, with a quiz at the end� and says she didn�t take notes. �I think I was drinking during the class,� she says. �I failed the first time, and had to pay to take it again.�

If the Princeton Review�s list of Top Party Schools is accurate, Jamie is a typical OU student. Earlier this year, when the list was released and OU appeared in the No. 5 slot, this small, Midwestern town went into a state of panic. Administrators denounced the list as the product of faulty surveys and the students either toasted to the decision or began worrying about the validity of their degrees. Meanwhile city officials tried to devise yet another way to deal with their town�s reputation as a Mecca for the overly tipsy. Whether or not OU makes the list next year or not, many of its party-going students would agree, it is the perfect example of an American Party School.

This fall, in an effort to curb underage drinking, as well as change their reputation, OU is requiring all its incoming freshmen to take the AlcoholEdu class. Of course, the difference between taking the class and absorbing the information, might be an important one. As Jamie says, �the second time I took notes, but all I remember is that you can still be drunk when you wake up in the morning.�

The list

The Princeton Review�s list, which they have published since 1992, usually includes a number of large state schools and was topped this year by State University of New York at Albany. Other notorious regulars include the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Georgia.

The Princeton Review (no relation to Princeton University) conducts the annual "Best 357 Colleges" survey and uses responses from more than 110,000 students at campuses around the country. The data is then used to rank schools according to eight categories, including academics, demographics, administration, and politics, in addition to the party school list.

According to their website, the Review�s selection of party schools is �based on a combination of survey questions concerning use of alcohol and drugs, hours of study each day, and the popularity of the Greek system.� Survey results come from student volunteers nationwide. Students who choose to fill out the survey in the first place may tend to be less academic minded. But, there is likely an element of truth in the survey, as well. If students feel so intensely driven to put their school on the top of the list, they have to be pretty determined partiers.

Robert Franek, lead author for the survey, believes that the Party School list is just one of the many ways his surveys help schools see themselves through the eyes of their students. He told the Associated Press that he thinks the list �accurately reflects college life – for better or worse – and can be a vehicle for change.�

In 2002, the American Medical Association called for an end to the Princeton Review top party schools list, saying that it is �misleading, and gives college-bound students a skewed perception about �partying� on campus.� The director of the AMA�s Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, Dr. Richard Yost, said that Princeton Review �should be ashamed to publish something for students and parents that fuels the false notion that alcohol is central to the college experience.� Of course, the Princeton Review�s list isn�t the only source of this myth � think, for example, of the heavily publicized annual Spring Break debauchery or �Animal House� and, well, every other Hollywood film about college, for that matter.

Mixed messages

Indeed, the Party School list can be seen as just another product of a culture that sends its young people extremely mixed messages about alcohol. Most freshmen are away from home for the first time and therefore susceptible to targeted ads like the one for �Natural Light,� a �college-friendly� beer whose ads urge young consumers to �get nattified.�

Tactics like requiring student to take an online class may have little effect when looked at in the context schools that actively endorses fraternities and sororities, institutions that have long been known for their alcohol-focused culture. OU has 17 traditional fraternities, and 9 sororities. While the University�s fraternity and sorority handbook maintains that the Greek community is expected to promote the �whole person� by promoting �effective leadership, responsible decision-making, and consideration of others� rights,� it�s a commonly known fact that going Greek not only means having built in friends, but also built in parties, especially during Rush and Greek Weeks.

While the Bush twins joke on national television about getting arrested for underage drinking, many college administrators tend to warn against the likelihood of being taken seriously as an employee after you�ve attended a �party school.�

OU�s new president, Roderick McDavis told a local newspaper, �If I were a student at OU today, I would be concerned about�being a party school, because when employers look at hiring you or the person sitting next to you, it�s one more obstacle to overcome.�

The university�s web site prominently notes that it is ranked among the top 50 national public universities, as well as the top 100 national universities in the 2005 U.S. News & World Report�s �America�s Best Colleges� edition. Meanwhile, OU professors relay stories of top companies which have stopped recruiting there because their recruits couldn�t be bothered to show up at work on Fridays.

Kristina Maurer, a senior, said she didn�t really know about OU�s reputation as a party school until she�d already made the decision to attend. �I remember how some of my teachers would encourage us to look elsewhere instead of a school like OU or Ohio State University,� she said. �Once I declared I was going to OU, all of these adults would immediately say, �ooh, a party school� and smirk.� Still, she believes she�s getting a quality education, saying she knows know of many people who have gotten �great, stable jobs because of the fact that they graduated from OU.�

Mostly college town

There are around 20,000 students attending OU - well more than half of the city�s population. The U.S. Census lists the Athens population�s median age at 21.5 � a national anomaly. Students outnumber actual citizens by so much that it creates interesting challenges for both city and university officials. Add to that the fact that there are 19 bars within three blocks of the town�s main drag, and an annual rite of passage night known as a �Court Street Shuffle,� in which students attempt drinking at all of them, and you have the makings of an explosive party situation.

Of course, there are ramifications. In 2002, OU had 9 assaults, 28 rapes and 14 incidents of what the school calls �forcible fondling.� And these were just the reported crimes. It has been said that one in four sexual assaults is reported, and alcohol is almost always a factor, especially when they occur between acquaintances. There were also over 600 liquor law arrests among the student population in 2002. The University gives grants to student and university organizations that promote alcohol-free events on Friday and Saturday nights, but it�s easy to guess that keg stands and beer bongs have a much stronger appeal. One local bar, for instance, offers something called �the Aquarium,� which is an enormous draft beer served in a chalice-like glass. Similarly, houses on popular student streets are peppered with bar banners advertising alcohol. One house�s banner claims they drink �only Bacardi.� Students tan in their yard during the week with signs like �you honk � we drink.�

Freshman Eric Gorscak said that while the party school ranking or reputation didn�t influence his decision to attend OU, it seems like an added perk. �It�s a nice little bonus. I�ve been known to be a partier, and from what I�ve seen so far, there are definitely a lot of parties here.� Gorsack might be referring to the Halloween and student housing block parties, as well as the �planned riot� that happens each year during spring�s Daylight Savings time change when the bars close an hour early, among others.

College is commonly seen as a road to job opportunities but for many young people it is also time to take risks, engage socially and learn through experimentation. When the majority of the student body are middle- to upper-class, as they are at OU, reckless consumption of the �legal drug� may be seen as a safe way to mess up. Students here usually have more than enough money to finance their nightly partying, or the bail they might have to pay if things go too far.

And learning? What about that outdated aspect of university life? Most OU students arrange their schedules so they don�t have class on Fridays, meaning the weekend starts for most of the students by Thursday night. Recently, when the OU administration voiced a plan to switch from the academic quarter system to a more universally accepted semester system, meaning of more Friday classes, the students were up in arms. And while the administration is still debating the switch, some students have insisted that if faced with Friday classes, they could simply not be bothered to attend.

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