UMD’s party culture, what we’re doing right and what needs to change

Illustration by Jake Barnard

Illustration by Jake Barnard

College parties are often portrayed as the most extravagant, loud, colorful and experimental time of our lives. But what is the truth of college parties in today’s society here in Duluth?

There are many positives to going out and partying with friends. It is a time to be social, a time to let loose and a time to make new memories and stories to look back on fondly, but parties come with a risk.

UMD police department Sergeant Chris Shovein believes that most people go to parties with good intentions, but peer pressure and not knowing your own limits can often lead to things getting out of hand. That, he said, is when it can get dangerous.

“There are a lot of things that can happen, very much not intended to, but nobody knows how it’s going to go by the end of the night,” Shovein said.

The biggest problem Shovein sees with parties in today’s culture is binge drinking. This often leads to things ending poorly.

“Binge drinking is something that is very dangerous,” Shovein said. “We would like to see that curbed because we don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone.”

UMD’s drug and alcohol educator Lauretta Perry believes that college party culture often reflects American culture as a whole and how alcohol is viewed as a nation.

“Alcohol is associated with our celebrations, our sporting events, our holidays, it’s ingrained in our culture,” Perry said.

Perry said that she believes college is just one aspect of that. It’s often a time when students are away from home for the first time and they’re seeking independence.

“When I talk with students, what I hear most often is that parties are an opportunity to just be social, to let loose a little bit,” Perry said. “It’s to meet people, it’s to socialize, it’s to flirt and parties provide that opportunity, which is what I think students are seeking.”

Often, it depends on the student’s intent on going to the party that influences how hard they will drink. If their intent is to meet new people and to socialize, the likelihood of them becoming intoxicated or even ‘blackout’ drunk is significantly lower. But for others, parties are just a more acceptable setting and or excuse for blacking out.

Although a positive trend among college campuses nationality is the increasing number of abstainer students, students who choose not to drink or do drugs, a negative trend is on the rise nationally too.

“The other thing that has switched,” Perry said, “that’s different than maybe 15 years ago, is that students are drinking more hard alcohol, whereas historically they used to drink more beer.”

The issue with turning to hard alcohol is that not only does it take less time to drink and therefore it take less to become intoxicated, it is harder to monitor or even know when somebody needs to be limited or even cut off.

“If you’ve got a bunch of people in a basement drinking hard liquor, my concern is that people wouldn’t know how to recognize alcohol poisoning,” Perry said.

With hard liquor, there is an increased risk for blacking out. In a developing brain, one that’s under or around the age of 25, blacking out with any frequency has been known to cause long term learning and memory problems.

Junior Sam Shelton enjoys going to parties and meeting new people, he believes it is a great stress reliever and way to unwind after a long week of school.

A down side to parties, Shelton said, is when people start getting out of control and becoming aggressive.

“Be responsible, know your limit and don’t try to go all out every time,” Shelton said. “You don’t need to be super drunk or hammered to have fun.”

An important thing to remember when partying is that alcohol affects everybody differently. Know your limits when it comes to drinking and respect others, said Shovein.

“There’s something to be said about that social interaction,” Shovein said. “There’s that socializing culture where  people are just having fun and there’s nothing wrong with that, you just have to keep it safe.”

Along with the rising trend of abstainers, another positive trend associated with college party culture is the usage of sober cabs and designated drivers. College students have been turning towards safer rides home likely due to both Uber and Lyft coming to Duluth.

“To put it into perspective, two years ago out of 11,000 students, 32 students got a DUI, last year, that number was four,” Perry said. “The only variable that we can identify as different, is that Uber and Lyft came to Duluth, and I believe that students do a really great job at intentionally seeking out safe and sober ways home.”

Shovein thinks it’s important for students to remember when partying, make sure to stay with the group you came with, watch out for one another, eat before you go out, make sure to have a safe ride home, and drink water at the end of the night. If the party is shut down by the cops be respectful and polite and know it’s time to head home.

“Watch out for one another, be polite, be respectful, and when it’s time to go it’s time to go,” Shovein said.

If someone is in need of medical attention call 911, do not risk someone’s life in fear of getting yourself or others in trouble.

Medical amnesty: Is a state statute, medical amnesty, was enacted in August 2013 that provides immunity for underage consumption or possession of alcohol for a person contacting 911 to seek assistance for an incapacitated individual. The person who receives medical assistance will also be immune from prosecution for underage drinking. The law also extends to 1-2 other individuals assisting on site in the situation. The law also requires the caller to give their full name, stay with the incapacitated individual until help arrives, and cooperate with emergency responders and law enforcement.

UMD Health Services provides students with other resources.