Over the past two decades, changes to national laws, Duke's residential schema and the University's event and alcohol policies have significantly altered students? social lives.
Kegs on the quad. Frat parties on Main West. A packed Hideaway. Once hallmarks of Duke’s party scene, these sights are now things of the past.
Weekend conversations today are dominated by words like Ninth, Watts, Buchanan and Urban—names of streets off East Campus where students flock to party.
Over the past two decades, changes to national laws, Duke’s residential schema and the University’s event and alcohol policies have significantly altered students’ social lives. Once known for large-scale parties on West Campus, Duke is now struggling to keep festivities in the Gothic Wonderland and out of Durham’s front yards.
Even with more concerts, movies and other social events to choose from than ever before, many students say they want the legendary “Old Duke” party scene to return to campus. If not, they will keep heading off campus to play.
Students living and partying off campus is not a new phenomenon. In the 1940s and ’50s, when Duke was divided by gender and mandated a dry campus, many students went to “cabins” in north Durham for parties. Students also began living and socializing in Trinity Park decades ago because of the area’s proximity to campus. Sue Wasiolek, Trinity ’76 and assistant vice president for student affairs, said she received her first complaint regarding student parties in Trinity Park in 1987 but heard grievances extend as far back as the 1960s.
Starting in the 1970s, however, off-campus residence soirees were no match for the party scene on West Campus. Then housed in the dormitories on the main quadrangle, fraternities hosted large keg parties that spilled out onto campus—a practice that continued well into the 1990s.
“My freshman year, there were kegs Friday and Saturday nights,” said Steve Fusco, Trinity ’98 and former president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. “You’d finish up with classes on Friday, and everybody would head over to West Campus, and it was just a free-for-all: open doors, all the students out there drinking free keg beer all night long. It was unbelievable.”
Wasiolek said the administration began to re-evaluate social life and partying in the 1980s because it believed the mounting popularity of excessive alcohol consumption posed a threat to students’ health. When the legal drinking age rose from 18 to 21 in 1986, the administration also had to cooperate with a no-drinking policy for a majority of undergraduates. In addition, Wasiolek noted, national fraternity and sorority policies and fire marshal requirements necessitated taming the packed party atmosphere that permeated weekend nights.
The most dramatic shift in social life began in 1995, when both the University and Interfraternity Council made the first of several major changes to alcohol policies and residential life. IFC officially passed a bring-your-own-beverage policy and ended open distribution of alcohol at fraternity parties in Spring 1995—leading to a substantial decline in the number and size of keg parties. New provisions added to the University’s policy mandated that student groups could only distribute alcohol through University-approved bartenders who were required to check all students’ identification.
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Citing a need to build a sense of community among freshman students and define the identity of East Campus, the administration also moved all freshmen to East in 1995. The change required a reorganization of the fraternity and selective living group spaces, Wasiolek said.
Looking for a less restrictive partying environment, students began to migrate off campus on the weekends. “There was this feeling on campus... that the administration was cracking down on us in a way that was unfair, so there was a natural movement off campus,” Fusco explained. More venues opened on Ninth Street and fraternities increasingly hosted house parties in the Trinity Park area, he added.
Duke’s social life came under intense scrutiny again in November 1999, when junior Raheem Bath died after a night of heavy drinking led to a fatal case of pneumonia. After months of dialogue about alcohol abuse, the University altered its event and alcohol policies in 2001. The new rules included mandatory registration of all parties, use of trained party monitors at events where alcohol was served, stronger consequences for violations and a provision that underage students’ parents would be called if they received medical assistance after drinking.
The Hideaway, an on-campus bar, also closed in 2001, eliminating a popular social outlet. A year later, in Fall 2002, the administration moved all fraternities off the main quad. Wasiolek said the change—balked at by greek groups—was both a response to some students’ complaints that the quad was not safe at night and a means of changing people’s perceptions of social life on campus.
“It gave an appearance that the social scene was very much centralized, right there on the main quad and was dominated by fraternities,” she said of the old residential arrangement, noting that currently only 29 percent of male students are in IFC fraternities. “I don’t think people would get that impression today if they were to step onto the main quad at 11 o’clock on a Friday night.”
The current problems
Today, the revised event and alcohol policies, lack of space for events and shuffling of fraternity sections aggravate many students’ ire about Duke’s on-campus social life. They are also reasons, students say, that much of the partying has moved away from Duke, despite the fact that only 15 percent of undergraduates live off campus.
“West Campus used to be people roaming all over the place and long lines at Pauly Dogs and everyone together,” said Chris Carlberg, a senior in Alpha Tau Omega who lives off East Campus with several fraternity brothers. “Now it looks pretty bare on a Saturday or Sunday night.”
Many students, including independents, noted that the administration’s rules have intimidated them to the point that they have left campus to seek social outlets elsewhere.
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said it is a “small but lively group of students,” not the administration, that is shifting the big parties off campus. Wasiolek said that “having several groups off campus who are not affiliated with the University” has also exacerbated the problem of partying in local neighborhoods. In the past three years, three fraternities disaffiliated from the University, and two are still operating off campus.
Moneta, however, said social life encompasses more than drinking and fraternity life. He pointed to the increase in attendance at arts shows, movies and other social events as evidence that the majority of students fraternize without Solo cups and kegs. Moneta said the University is also investigating how to bring even more social options to campus and commercial venues to Ninth Street to offer students a “wide variety” of late-night activities.
“It’s safer to have events on campus where there is no driving and other people’s property,” Carlberg said. “It would be better if it was made more conducive to having parties on West.”
Wasiolek said that the current “romantic appeal” and “glamorization of off-campus social life” is problematic, and the University is focused on bringing students back to socialize responsibly.
“It is unrealistic to say that we will ever bring back large, unsafe, keg-centered parties,” she said.