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Reining In the Party

By Regan Houser
July 30, 2014
Appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of
IUP Magazine

IUP and other colleges throughout the nation work to guide students away from reckless independence and safely into adulthood.

National Problem, Local Level

Imagine reading these statistics as you and your rising high school senior seek the perfect college fit: 1,825 student deaths per year at US colleges; 599,000 student injuries; 696,000 annual assaults by another student who has been drinking; 100,000 students who report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex; and 3,360,000 students who drive under the influence of alcohol.

Those statistics were published in an August 2013 article titled “Party Excess” on Fastweb, a website that high school students across America and their parents have used since 1995 to shop for colleges and scholarship opportunities. Using the statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it cautions students to be careful upon arrival on their campus of choice, that excessive partying can be dangerous.

Binge drinking and associated behaviors are not a new trend for college campuses. IUP Magazine has twice before covered the subculture and dangers of excessive student partying. In 1999, Robert Ackerman, IUP sociology professor emeritus and founder of the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Research and Training Institute, shared his insights on why some college students drink to excess in “Message in a Bottle.” That article was preceded by one published in 1990 called “Who Cheers for Beer?”

Demonstrated by incidents connected to St. Patrick’s Day that gained national attention, IUP, like many universities across the nation, continues to address this issue, which is complicated and exacerbated by the recent phenomenon of social media. A letter from an alumnus to the Penn, IUP’s student newspaper, says it all:

As a teacher of history in a public high school in New Jersey who has always kept a small IUP pennant on his bulletin board, I had to write to tell you how my morning was made today.

In all three of my morning classes, students came up and asked if they could use the classroom computer, showed me a YouTube video of mindless goons wreaking havoc, then asked, “Isn’t that your college?”

Yep. Made my day.

The following members of the campus community, closely connected to the issues, share their perspectives on the challenge universities face.

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Comment on This Issue

Providing feedback on this issue of IUP Magazine will help to improve the product and earn you a chance at winning an IUP sweatshirt. Complete the online survey by September 1, 2014, to be eligible.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The IUP Alumni Association presented its highest honor to 10 alumni in fields ranging from the arts and culinary arts to the military and television and film production.

Cool Summer

Each summer, the campus provides learning opportunities to students from elementary through high school while giving valuable experience to IUP student helpers.

Celebrating Keith School

Former Keith School students, student teachers, and faculty members will gather this fall to say goodbye to the building.

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The Conduct Officer

In the three decades she has worked in the college environment, the last 13 years as IUP’s primary administrator overseeing student conduct, Kate Linder has seen her share of fallout from excessive student partying and was quick to refer to a book called Party School: Campus, Crime, and Community.

The book’s author, Karen Weiss, a West Virginia University sociology professor, spent years studying the party culture. Her research concurs with previous research: Most universities that find themselves labeled as “party schools” are public or state institutions with large undergraduate populations of more than 10,000. They are situated in isolated towns where the variety of available activities is far less than what might be offered in an urban setting, and their students live on campus or in nearby housing off campus.

Kate Linder

Kate Linder, Conduct Officer (Photo by Keith Boyer)

“[The book] made me consider things in a different way,” Linder said. “For my colleagues at other schools and throughout my tenure here, drugs and alcohol have been present and have been the predominant behavior issue. In that sense, not a lot has changed.”

Linder explained that 8 to 12 percent of students in a given year go through the Student Conduct system for violations of all types, from noise to underage drinking or more serious crimes. Of those, typically more than 75 percent are freshmen, and they are arriving on campus with more experience with alcohol and drug use than ever.

In IUP’s case—and in the case of many other universities—upperclassmen tend to live in high-density housing located within walking distance of campus. Freshmen are required to live on campus, and the close proximity to the high-density, unsupervised, off-campus housing provides easy access to alcohol.

“Add to that a convenience store next to campus that sells beer, and you have a petri dish for excessive partying,” she said.

She also believes that what she sees on IUP’s campus is not out of line with what happens in larger society.

“To impact the magnitude of what we’re up against, it will take setting high expectations for students from everyone.”

“What has changed—and this has been trending for the last several years—we’re seeing higher blood alcohol levels for the students who come through the conduct system,” she said. “And we’re seeing an increase in the importance they place on drinking—that it’s now the main attraction for some people. The students whose goal is to drink—not to have a couple of drinks to relax but to become inebriated and for whom it is a badge of pride to say, ‘I can’t remember what I did,’ that’s a very small segment of our population, but it’s a segment that can have a very loud voice on social media.”

She referred to social media as a “game changer,” a venue for advertising parties and other gatherings that is rapid-fire and difficult to control.

“What makes that even more difficult for us is that it not only tells our students where the parties are, it also alerts nonstudents where the parties are,” she said.

Of the excessive party culture the country faces, Linder compared it to trying to hold back a tsunami.

“I believe students rise to the expectations that are set for them from multiple fronts. This is a huge, endemic problem for our culture and for our students as a subculture within the larger society. To slow it down will take messages from parents. It will take messages from the universities. It will take messages from law enforcement. Perhaps most powerfully, it will take messages from peers. To impact the magnitude of what we’re up against, it will take setting high expectations for students from everyone,” Linder said.

Keep Reading: The Alcohol and Drug Program Coordinator »

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For more than 20 years, alumnus Rick McMaster has shared his passion for science with hundreds of thousands of children in central Texas.

A True Underdog Story

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Comment on This Issue

Providing feedback on this issue of IUP Magazine will help to improve the product and earn you a chance at winning an IUP sweatshirt. Complete the online survey by September 1, 2014, to be eligible.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The IUP Alumni Association presented its highest honor to 10 alumni in fields ranging from the arts and culinary arts to the military and television and film production.

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Each summer, the campus provides learning opportunities to students from elementary through high school while giving valuable experience to IUP student helpers.

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The Alcohol and Drug Program Coordinator

Just as Linder oversees the conduct and judicial process at IUP, Ann Sesti works in the Center for Health and Well-Being as the director of the university’s Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Program. She, too, says that what she sees in a semester at IUP is similar to what her colleagues at other universities experience.

“Universities have been taking an active role [in controlling excessive substance use] for a very long time,” she said, explaining that over the years, she has had available for her operation grants issued by entities such as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the US Department of Education for programming at IUP and with other universities in Pennsylvania. The grants generally are dual focused to include campus law enforcement and educational components. Recently, some have added recreational components meant to spark culture change.

Among the recreational programs are late-night activities and high-end events, such as a casino night during Homecoming that attracted more than 500 students.

“When movies show college life, what do they usually portray? They portray partying.”

“Professionals in my field combat misperceptions all the time,” Sesti said. “When we ask students about their perceptions of their classmates, they’ll describe a very different picture than when you ask them to describe their own behaviors.”

Sesti and her colleagues around the country are employing social norming campaigns—clarifying what normal drinking behavior really is—to try to change culture.

Students walking in the streets in Indiana during an early celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on March 8

Social media has been a “game changer,” IUP officials say, both in sensationalizing excessive college drinking and in advertising the nearest party. Photo: James J. Nestor/The Indiana Gazette

“When they walk into a party, they don’t see the people who are not drinking. They see the students who are—and, usually, the ones who are drinking are the ones who attract the most attention,” she said. “Even our own internal data supports this. The majority of students drink three or fewer drinks a week, but the data shows the perception is that students drink more.”

Data, Sesti said, also supports that certain social groups are susceptible to excessive drinking “because the social norm of that group includes alcohol.” Those groups include Greek organizations and athletes.

“If you look at the Greek culture, a lot of their functions are centered around alcohol and the availability of alcohol,” she said.

Ann Sesti

Ann Sesti, Alcohol and Drug Program Coordinator (Photo by Keith Boyer)

Sesti looks to the media and now social media for perpetuating the notion that excessive drinking is what college students are supposed to do.

“When movies show college life, what do they usually portray? They portray partying,” she said. “When we talk to students as they arrive for orientation to assess the playing field, we ask them, ‘What kinds of expectations do you have about college?’ Partying is one of the answers we hear most frequently, and when we ask them why they think that, they’ll tell us it’s from movies and reality TV, it’s from friends and family, and, now, certainly, it’s social media.”

Interestingly, Sesti said national statistics show that alcohol consumption is down in comparison to previous years. Marijuana use has increased among high school students.

“Anecdotally, I’ll say that while drinking might be down, what students are drinking has changed. When I was in college and attended a party, what I saw was always pretty much beer. Now, I think students are drinking harder substances.

“When you enter the liquor store now, take a look at all the different flavors of vodka that line the shelves—blueberry, banana, cherry. It’s clear companies are trying to appeal to younger audiences.”

Keep Reading: The Sociologists »

More from the Summer 2014 Issue of IUP Magazine

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

For more than 20 years, alumnus Rick McMaster has shared his passion for science with hundreds of thousands of children in central Texas.

A True Underdog Story

A True Underdog Story

The women’s rugby club lacked a coach, visibility, and the funds to go to the national tournament, but its title run was the stuff Hollywood movies are made of.

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | Letters to the Editor | In Brief

Comment on This Issue

Providing feedback on this issue of IUP Magazine will help to improve the product and earn you a chance at winning an IUP sweatshirt. Complete the online survey by September 1, 2014, to be eligible.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The IUP Alumni Association presented its highest honor to 10 alumni in fields ranging from the arts and culinary arts to the military and television and film production.

Celebrating Keith School

Former Keith School students, student teachers, and faculty members will gather this fall to say goodbye to the building.

Citizens’ Ambulance Marks 50 Years

When Jerry Esposito ’66 took over what would become Citizens’ Ambulance Service, he relied on the students of Indiana State College to answer calls.

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The Sociologists

Alex Heckert and Christian Vaccaro M’05 both are sociologists. Vaccaro is a research associate, and Heckert is associate director of the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Research and Training Institute. Heckert, who serves as chair of the Sociology Department, was Robert Ackerman’s longtime colleague. Vaccaro recently co-organized a national conference IUP hosted on community violence and trauma.

Both stressed that as sociologists, they observe societal behavior and trends, and by sharing certain observations, they do not condone behavior but rather explain why certain behaviors might happen.

Neither disputes the substance use statistics Sesti provided nor the notion that media and social media sensationalize excessive partying, creating the misperception that more students are participating.

Heckert contended that students receive conflicting messages about what is normal behavior—they can drive at 15, they can vote at 18, they can fight in a war at 18, but they legally cannot drink until age 21.

“It’s peer groups drinking with peer groups, without the benefit of adults who have more experience with consuming alcohol responsibly. They learn from each other.”

“The theory of anomie suggests that if you receive mixed messages and are confused, you’ll simply just do what’s pleasurable for you. We have a lot of competing and confusing messages about alcohol in our society,” he said. “I don’t know the polling data on this, but I think we’d find that many people would say it’s okay for a 19-year-old to have a glass of wine with dinner. We have many mixed and unclear messages throughout our society. It applies to many different behaviors for adolescents.”

Alex Heckert and Christian Vaccaro

Alex Heckert, left, chair of the Sociology Department, and Christian Vaccaro M’05, Sociology faculty member (Photo by Keith Boyer)

When students enter the university environment at age 18, the expectation is that they are adults. Vaccaro suggested that many students become carried away by their newfound freedom.

“Think about it in the context of the university. University campuses generally hold policies of abstinence when it comes to student consumption of alcohol. Students aren’t allowed to drink on campus and, in fact, can get into trouble walking onto campus having consumed alcohol. They aren’t consuming alcohol in the context of adult groups, where they might see limits. In the case of off-campus house parties, it’s peer groups drinking with peer groups, without the benefit of adults who have more experience with consuming alcohol responsibly,” Vaccaro said. “They learn from each other.”

Heckert provided additional perspective, referring to sociologist Emile Durkheim’s theory on deviance: “Crime and deviance (from norms) have a function. One of them is boundaries. When kids grow up, they try things. Parents set limits, and kids learn boundaries. Deviance, in this case, is kids testing what their boundaries are.

“There’s a tradeoff regarding how much freedom [college campuses] must allow,” he said. “The more you allow people to have freedom and make choices, the more deviance you might have to tolerate.”

He also compared the attempt to constrain behaviors to a tea kettle with a pressure valve.

Police are shown patrolling the South Seventh Street corridor in Indiana during an early celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on March 8.

The party scene—at IUP and colleges across the country— frequently involves outdoor parties in which throngs of people line and even spill out into the streets, creating a nuisance for the greater community. Police are shown patrolling the South Seventh Street corridor in Indiana during an early celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on March 8. (Photo: James J. Nestor/The Indiana Gazette)

Students cleaned up March 9 along South Seventh Street.

Students cleaned up March 9 along South Seventh Street. (Photo: James J. Nestor/The Indiana Gazette)

“Tolerating a small amount of deviant behavior allows a small release of pressure. If you exert too much constraint and there is no pressure valve, the more likely the tea kettle is to explode in the form of full-scale rebellion.

“The question is, how much rebellion—how much deviance—can society tolerate and accept?” he said.

Heckert asserted that while student partying gets attention, it probably is not out of line with what happens in larger society, noting that many adults are arrested for driving under the influence and experience accidents related to substance use.

“That’s not to say that drinking can’t have some very negative consequences,” he said. “If you look at violence, incidences of battering, for example, alcohol is certainly a risk factor,” he said.

“In the context of excessive partying, the more the media sensationalize it, the more it creates role models and normalizes it.”

Keep Reading: President Driscoll's Commentary, Taking a Stand, Together »

More from the Summer 2014 Issue of IUP Magazine

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

For more than 20 years, alumnus Rick McMaster has shared his passion for science with hundreds of thousands of children in central Texas.

A True Underdog Story

A True Underdog Story

The women’s rugby club lacked a coach, visibility, and the funds to go to the national tournament, but its title run was the stuff Hollywood movies are made of.

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | Letters to the Editor | In Brief

Comment on This Issue

Providing feedback on this issue of IUP Magazine will help to improve the product and earn you a chance at winning an IUP sweatshirt. Complete the online survey by September 1, 2014, to be eligible.

Cool Summer

Each summer, the campus provides learning opportunities to students from elementary through high school while giving valuable experience to IUP student helpers.

Celebrating Keith School

Former Keith School students, student teachers, and faculty members will gather this fall to say goodbye to the building.

Citizens’ Ambulance Marks 50 Years

When Jerry Esposito ’66 took over what would become Citizens’ Ambulance Service, he relied on the students of Indiana State College to answer calls.

Previous  |  Next

President Driscoll: Taking a Stand, Together

President Michael Driscoll

You have seen the images on the news, in social media, and in the movie theater. Crowds of young people clogging a busy street. Crazy antics like jumping on cars. Excessive consumption of alcohol and other drugs.

Excessive college student partying across the nation is a complex problem. At age 18, students are legal adults, and part of what they are supposed to learn when they go off to college is how to manage their lives without their parents and guardians running behind them. It is supposed to be a time of experimentation, of personal growth by trying new things, and of making mistakes that end up being learning opportunities. As a parent, when I sent my kids off to college, I wanted them to reach beyond the boundaries we set in our household, but that never would have included receiving a phone call from one of them, saying, “Dad, I’ve been expelled for throwing a party that got out of hand.”

Campuses across the country are plagued by some students who take these concepts way too far by conforming to mob mentality, putting themselves and innocent bystanders in danger, being a nuisance to the host community, and taking a toll on their universities’ reputations.

Many people were shocked by these very things, which occurred in Indiana last March in connection with St. Patrick’s Day. Alumni have told us they are disappointed by what they saw in social media venues. Many of our students are appalled and concerned for how this kind of behavior affects the worth of their degrees. Many Indiana residents are exasperated by what occurred.

So am I.

Now two years into my presidency, this has been my greatest challenge so far, especially because I—and we—are committed to providing students a high-quality education in a safe, productive environment and preparing the good citizens of tomorrow. IUP’s response to this national issue has not been to hide under our desks and point fingers or hope another situation like it will not occur again. We have the imperative to find solutions, and we are acting.

Betsy Chimock Sarneso ’93, M’94, of the Center for Student Life, and Michael Driscoll addressed the more than 350 sorority and fraternity members who picked up trash from Indiana’s streets March 9, following the previous day’s parties.

Betsy Chimock Sarneso ’93, M’94, of the Center for Student Life, and Michael Driscoll addressed the more than 350 sorority and fraternity members who picked up trash from Indiana’s streets March 9, following the previous day’s parties. (Photo: The Penn)

Students who make misguided decisions must come to understand that their actions affect many people and their very own future. It is our job to reinforce appropriate, responsible behavior. We also must ensure that students understand the drawbacks of social media in these situations—that mass messages mean they can’t control who or how many show up at the party and that their own future professional reputations may come under scrutiny.

We recently invited the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to conduct a review of what occurred in March. PEMA officials interacted with a comprehensive list of stakeholders, from law enforcement and elected officials to landlords and busines owners—and, of course, members of IUP’s staff. This reflects my belief that everyone needs to work together. Stakeholders at our May briefing on the review’s results concluded that we must all work more closely together to combat excessive drinking and its consequences. As a result, we established a leadership task force that will continue meeting.

For years, IUP’s Student Conduct office has received from local law enforcement incident reports for students who are cited off campus. Those students are placed in the university’s adjudication system and face fines and other measures sanctioned by the university, in addition to the consequences they face in the off-campus court system. In May, the university’s Council of Trustees voted to significantly increase student conduct fines.

IUP always has collaborated with off-campus law enforcement agencies, and we will seek ways to enhance our working relationship.

Enforcement alone, even with the addition of well-coordinated new tactics, will not be enough, however.We will strategically create a framework for continuous prevention as well as continue practices we know are effective. I’ve been impressed with the work our campus community has done in terms of peer education and other programming—for example, the PartySmart program. Piloted by our Center for Student Life last spring, PartySmart brought more than 100 students in direct contact with local officials to learn about ordinances and consequences. Still, there is more to do, and we will continue to work closely with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, other agencies, and students to plan and refine.

We know our action plan will include additional education, activities, preparation, and enforcement. We know it will be defined by an inclusive group of stakeholders working together, it will draw from best practices employed by others, and it will build on the work we already are doing.

Kate Linder’s words in “Reining in the Party,” are true and worth repeating. Combatting this issue here and everywhere else will take action and messages from many people—parents, the university, the community, alumni, and, most of all, students themselves.

Keep Reading: We Are Not Alone »

More from the Summer 2014 Issue of IUP Magazine

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

For more than 20 years, alumnus Rick McMaster has shared his passion for science with hundreds of thousands of children in central Texas.

A True Underdog Story

A True Underdog Story

The women’s rugby club lacked a coach, visibility, and the funds to go to the national tournament, but its title run was the stuff Hollywood movies are made of.

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | Letters to the Editor | In Brief

Comment on This Issue

Providing feedback on this issue of IUP Magazine will help to improve the product and earn you a chance at winning an IUP sweatshirt. Complete the online survey by September 1, 2014, to be eligible.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The IUP Alumni Association presented its highest honor to 10 alumni in fields ranging from the arts and culinary arts to the military and television and film production.

Cool Summer

Each summer, the campus provides learning opportunities to students from elementary through high school while giving valuable experience to IUP student helpers.

Celebrating Keith School

Former Keith School students, student teachers, and faculty members will gather this fall to say goodbye to the building.

Previous  |  Next

We Are Not Alone

Universities handle excessive partying in different ways. The following is not comprehensive. It is meant to illustrate the problem’s depth and the variety of initiatives used to combat it.

  • Dartmouth College leads the Ivy League in alcohol and drug violations, according to a Huffington Post article titled “Dartmouth’s Drinking Culture Worships Beer Pong, but Can It Be Tamed?” In response to incidents of binge drinking, the campus continues to combat the problem through initiatives such as BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students), a program developed at the University of Washington in the 1990s. Students cited for alcohol-related offenses must participate. IUP also uses BASICS.
  • According to news reports in the Columbus Dispatch, 100 people were arrested during a two-day, annual Halloween block party in Athens, Ohio, in 2013. The event is not sanctioned by Ohio University. Among its countermeasures, the university has instituted fines and adjusted its drug and alcohol policy. It also has conducted the Party Legal campaign, which, according to the university’s website, was introduced in response to unsafe behaviors during spring parties that led to arrests, suspensions, and expulsions. The campaign encourages students to obey local and state laws and be smart, civil, and safe. IUP’s PartySmart program is similar in concept.
  • Just as IUP and its surrounding community have taken a collaborative approach, so has Penn State University, but with a different strategy. Established more than a decade ago, Partnership: Campus and Community United against Dangerous Drinking brings together community leaders from on and off campus. Among its activities, the group began paying establishments not to sell or serve alcohol during State Patty’s Day, a spin-off of St. Patrick’s Day.
    As Tom Fountaine, State College borough manager, said in an article that appeared on Penn State’s website, “The ill effects of State Patty’s Day are pervasive, and we’ve been committed to a community-wide response. It’s not just a campus problem, it’s not just a borough problem, it’s not just a neighborhood problem. Only by working together will we bring an end to this.”
  • West Virginia MetroNews Network reported that in April 2014, West Virginia University and the City of Morgantown hosted a town-hall style forum on underage and high-risk drinking with support from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The article quoted the university’s assistant vice president for student wellness: “It’s not that people can’t drink, that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s just that, when you do drink, you drink responsibly.”

More from the Summer 2014 Issue of IUP Magazine

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

Exploring the Cold, Creating a Spark

For more than 20 years, alumnus Rick McMaster has shared his passion for science with hundreds of thousands of children in central Texas.

A True Underdog Story

A True Underdog Story

The women’s rugby club lacked a coach, visibility, and the funds to go to the national tournament, but its title run was the stuff Hollywood movies are made of.

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | Letters to the Editor | In Brief

Comment on This Issue

Providing feedback on this issue of IUP Magazine will help to improve the product and earn you a chance at winning an IUP sweatshirt. Complete the online survey by September 1, 2014, to be eligible.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The IUP Alumni Association presented its highest honor to 10 alumni in fields ranging from the arts and culinary arts to the military and television and film production.

Cool Summer

Each summer, the campus provides learning opportunities to students from elementary through high school while giving valuable experience to IUP student helpers.

Citizens’ Ambulance Marks 50 Years

When Jerry Esposito ’66 took over what would become Citizens’ Ambulance Service, he relied on the students of Indiana State College to answer calls.

Previous  |