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No Drinking on Campus: Alcohol Free Parties Rising in Popularity

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Keg parties, beer pong and binge drinking are three activities commonly associated with college, but recent studies have found that a rising number of students would prefer to participate in events that don’t place emphasis on alcohol.

The percentage of incoming college freshmen who choose not to drink has increased, and alcohol-free events are growing in popularity as more and more young adults want to socialize and have fun without getting drunk.

Surveys Report Fewer College Freshmen Drinking

Outside the Classroom, a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that provides alcohol education training at colleges and universities across the country, surveys about one-third of freshmen entering four-year universities and colleges each fall. Since 2006, the group has found that the percentage of incoming freshmen who abstain from alcohol has jumped from 38% to 62%.

“It’s a demographic trend among students,” Outside the Classroom CEO Brandon Busteed told USA Today earlier this month. He believes that the current state of the economy is a big reason for the change. Students “are taking (college) more seriously because they realize it’s their future,” he told the newspaper.

The Minnesota Daily also reports that Outside the Classroom surveys conducted at the University of Minnesota have found that more first-year students are abstaining from alcohol. In 2006, 38% of incoming University of Minnesota students said they had not drank in the last two weeks, the “most accurate timeframe to measure” according to Busteed. Those numbers have now been reversed with the most recent incoming class—in 2011, only 38% said that they had drank within the past two weeks. “No one is thinking that alcohol is never going to be part of the framework of college,” Busteed points out. But even so, “This is a chance to de-emphasize it in a really important way.”

More College Students Interested in Alcohol Free Events

The Wall Street Journal reports that surveys conducted at Purdue University also show a sharp drop in binge drinking among students—from 48% in 2006 to 37.3% in 2009. Tamara Loew, health-advocacy coordinator at Purdue, attributes the trend in part to a boom in late-night, alcohol-free events on or around campus.

Outside the Classroom reports that data gathered during their 2008 administration of AlcoholEdu for College found that the majority of students surveyed indicated interest in attending events that do not focus on alcohol.

One of the most popular options was having a cool place to hang out, a finding which suggests that colleges might not need to organize massive parties or events; instead, they could simply provide students with an attractive place to interact and have fun with their peers.

Suggested alcohol free activities and the number of students who indicated interest in attending such events are listed below.

  • Movie Nights (110,486)
  • Live Music (97,743)
  • “Cool Place to Hang Out” (86,793)
  • Intramural Sports (80,366)
  • Outdoor Adventures (74,661)
  • Bowling (70,357)
  • Community Service (59,645)
  • Board Games (50,772)
  • Talent Shows (45,052)
  • Karaoke Night (36,049)
  • Dance Dance Revolution (26,619)

Alcohol Free College Events Across the Country

Sarah Geisler, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Wall Street Journal that alcohol free events on campus carry a stigma among many students who arrive on campus thinking college life "is this huge wild party.” Many students think that "if they’re not out at a party and doing something that involves alcohol, their weekend was unsuccessful and they have no stories to tell,” she explains.

Even so, the paper reports that about 100 colleges and universities offer frequent, regular and entertaining alcohol-free activities. Some of the programs are initiated by students while others are suggested and financed by administrators who turn them over to students to run.

Lehigh University

At Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Resident Hall Association recently held an alcohol free event called Mix It Up! Twelve teams comprised of members of residence halls and Greek life made their own alcohol-free cocktails known as “mocktails.” Different stations provided information and entertainment, and the mocktails were judged by Assistant Vice Provost and Dean of Students Sharon Basso and Lehigh alumnus and bar owner Matt Scheller. The winners received prizes, of course!

“The designated stations made alcohol education interactive and fun, with Alcohol Jeopardy, the Lehigh Police’s drunken simulation goggle race and water pong competition for prizes,” Myles Gamboa of the class of 2011, who organized the event, told the Brown and White, Lehigh’s twice-weekly student newspaper.

Ball State University

In Muncie, Indiana, Ball State University’s Late Nite is held every Saturday night throughout the semester from 9 PM to 1 AM. Touted as the “Best Party on Campus,” Late Nite features a variety of activities in the school’s student center including movies, games, dance videos, arts and crafts, laser tag, a rock climbing wall, and live bands. Events are free for Ball State students, who can bring a guest along for just five bucks, and free food is provided.

North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University hosts Club NDSU, called the “hottest club in town” by the school’s website. Club NDSU features a night-life atmosphere including a live DJ, a video game lounge with 3 Nintendo Wii’s, free food, nonalcoholic drinks and tons of prizes. Sponsored by the Campus Live Committee, admission is free for NDSU students.

Penn State University

The Student Programming Association at Penn State University hosts Late Night on Friday and Saturday nights as a way for students to have access to alcohol-free entertaining activities like movie nights, concerts, dancing, and arts and crafts.

Organize an Alcohol Free Event on Your College Campus

Contact the Student Activities department at your college or university to learn more about alcohol free events on campus. None planned in the immediate future? Get together with a friend or two and organize your own! After all, studies prove that other students will be more than happy to join in on the alcohol-free fun.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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