Considering the University's party culture

Jake Fromm/Daily
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Published September 28, 2010

As an Ann Arbor Police Department squad car pulls up to a house party on Mary Court, two students dash across a crowded porch — entirely naked.

AAPD Sgt. Earl Fox bolts out of the vehicle and sprints up the porch steps, but he isn’t fast enough. The streakers disappear into the house before he is able to catch a glimpse of their faces.

It’s after midnight the evening before the first Michigan football game of the 2010 season as Fox unceremoniously ends the party, and the crowd stumbles into the night. He gives the residents of the house that threw the party a noise violation — largely, Fox says, because they didn’t cooperate with the policemen by revealing the identities of the exhibitionists.

Fox has seen all types of lewd scenes in his 11 years patrolling the streets as an officer for the AAPD. But despite the various parties he sees going on nearly any given night around campus, the University is not typically featured as one of the so-called “party schools” on the national lists published each year by the Princeton Review and Playboy.

The police, obviously, are major players in the University’s party scene. They, among other duties, confiscate fake IDs and hand out citations for Minors in Possession of Alcohol and for open container violations. And, of course, they shut down parties if they get too rowdy.

Not all calls end in citations and controversy, however. Earlier that evening, Fox responded to a noise complaint on the 800 block of Mary Street. Unlike the residents of the house with the streakers, however, the individuals responsible for the excessive noise were cooperative.

The perpetrators, a group of nine people playing drums and guitars, singing and drinking wine and beer on the porch of their house, responded politely and with a sense of humor to Fox’s instructions to stop playing.

Jokingly, they asked Fox to sit, have a beer and jam with them. With a smile, Fox turned down their offer, saying he wished he could stay but, as a sergeant, he has other officers he is responsible for supervising who wouldn’t be happy with the decision.

As he turns to leave, Fox advised the musicians to encourage their neighbors to contact them directly if they are too loud again so that the police don’t have to be involved.

Following these party-related incidents, Fox deals with a potential fire at the Zaragon Place apartments, a few fights and a routine bar inspection. But just because there is a pause from calls to break up parties doesn’t mean they aren’t happening around campus, complete with slews of underage binge drinking. According to Fox, the AAPD won’t break up parties unless they receive a complaint or it becomes noticeably too rowdy.

“If I did that, we’d do nothing else other than that,” Fox said. “You’ll see that tonight we’ll be on one street (because) someone called about a noise complaint. But, then the next street will have a massive party, but nobody will call it in, (so we won’t do anything) unless it becomes a safety issue.”

This year, the University of Georgia topped the Princeton Review’s party school list and the University of Texas at Austin was number one in Playboy’s rankings.

Though the University of Michigan didn’t make either list, the schools that do appear on the lists share many similarities with it. The majority of schools on both lists are large public institutions, and six of the Princeton Review’s top 20 schools and two of Playboy’s top ten were Big Ten universities.

Seamus Mullarkey, senior editor of the Princeton Review’s “The Best 373 Colleges,” said the rankings were based on an online survey completed by over 120,000 college students from across the country.

“The party scene (category) is based on a different number of questions,” Mullarkey said. “It’s based on the use of alcohol and drugs on campus, the number of hours outside the classroom students study each day and the popularity of the fraternities and sororities on campus. So, for any school that’s on the top 20 list there will be a high consensus amongst students.”

Playboy Spokesman Steve Mazeika said the magazine’s rankings were based on a less technical approach. Instead of surveys, the magazine’s editors were asked a simple question: “Where would someone who wants to live the Playboy lifestyle want to go to school?”

“Basically, to put it more simply, we’re looking for universities where students can receive an excellent education and also have excellent social opportunities at their disposal, as well,” he continued. “It’s just sort of the full package, you could say.”

Neither Mazeika nor Mullarkey could specifically say why the University isn’t in their rankings, but most students think the University doesn’t make the list because of its emphasis on education.

“We party a lot on the weekends, but for the majority of the students here we work really hard during the week,” Business junior Jenny Nowierski said. “I think what categorizes a party school is a school that parties all week long and doesn’t really focus on school as much.”

LSA senior Kimberly McCraw, meanwhile, said the University’s party scene was “under the radar.”

“Academics, athletics and other things are so big at our school that maybe partying kind of takes a back seat to it,” she said. “Yes, everyone here probably does party, but there are things that are much better about our school that overshadow that.”

Engineering junior Russell Kretzschmar was prideful that the University is on rankings based on academics, not partying.

“We still have just as much fun as everyone else, but we’re not labeled as some crazy, wild, party school,” Kretzschar said. “We’re a respected university. We’re the 15th ranked university in the world by the (QS World University Rankings). I take pride in the fact that our school is ranked academically, and not by the amount of alcohol we can drink.”

Mary Jo Desprez, the Alcohol and Other Drug Policy and Prevention administrator at the University, whose job is to provide alcohol and drug awareness to a wide array of students, said it’s a good thing the University isn’t on any party school list because, she believes, the value of a degree earned from the University would diminish if it had the reputation of a party school.

Desprez added that the high level of academics is another reason the University doesn’t have a party reputation nationally.

“The academic challenges here are really, really, difficult," she said. “I think that puts another filter on that. People at the University of Michigan love to have fun, they love to be with each other, they love to be ‘Go Blue!’, but I think their academic pursuit is equally as passionate for them.”

Though the University does not make regular appearances on the best party school lists, it is not noted as one of the tamer universities either. In its two-page profile of the University, The Princeton Review’s “The Best 173 Colleges” notes the University’s lively party scene and abundance of school spirit.

“There is a robust party scene," the book reads. “Students tell us that ‘most students go to house parties [or] hit the bars.’ There’s also a vigorous social scene for the non-drinking crowd, with ‘great programs like UMix...phenomenal cultural opportunities in Ann Arbor especially music and movies,’ and ‘the hugely popular football Saturdays. The sense of school spirit here is impressive.’”

Still, in a survey of more than 100 randomly selected students from around campus conducted by the Daily, 60 percent said they would call the University a party school. Despite the fact that the University isn’t on any national party school rankings, a plurality of students who matriculate here feel that it is, indeed, a party school. And the school spirit evident in Ann Arbor contributes to that perception.

But not everyone takes part in the widespread drinking scene. According to a 2009 survey conducted by the University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, 46.3 percent of all University students participated in binge drinking.

There are various types of students on campus, some who drink heavily, some who are experimenting with alcohol for the first time and others who are in recovery or don’t drink at all for other reasons, according to Desprez.

“People come in varying degrees of having a relationship with whether they drink or not,” she said. “So, our job is to have a comprehensive approach that meets students wherever they’re at.”

Jennifer Cervi, president of Students for Recovery, said the group’s 20 core members try to promote a healthier, alcohol free lifestyle on campus.

“Basically, our whole initiative is to provide an alternative and to provide sober events at campus,” she said. “We’ve had things like sober cycle rallies, coffee struts, we’ve had dances, we’ve had a monthly yoga night. Our whole promotion is to provide a sober alternative on campus.”

The group tries to assist individuals who are recovering from alcoholism, as well as those who simply choose to abstain from alcohol, and with reasonable success — nearly 200 people have attended several of the organization’s events, according to Cervi.

“Speaking as somebody that’s in recovery on campus, we’re kind of inundated with things like pub crawls and keggers and just a constant social pressure that’s all there is on campus,” Cervi said. “We’re totally okay with that, but basically we wanted to provide an alternative as well so people would have things to do on Friday nights and in campus life.”

For those who do choose to consume alcohol, AODPP sponsors promotional campaigns like the popular Stay in the Blue and Choose to Be Safe and Legal, which educate students who choose to drink about safe drinking habits and the laws surrounding drinking.

And of those who do drink, most drink responsibly and limit themselves to just a few drinks, Desprez said.

“The perception is that everybody does it,” she said. “And that’s often a misperception, and sometimes making sure people have an accurate perception changes the way people drink.”

As a result of the way movies portray college life, Desperez said, students enter the University as freshmen thinking everyone at college drinks heavily. Her job, she said, is to present them with information that shows not everyone drinks, and most of those that do drink do so modestly.

Essentially, she says, there is no single party culture.