“At pregame parties, you’ll have six or seven drinks and you won’t really feel it, which is scary,” says Stacey, a Georgetown sophomore. “I think that’s the definition of alcoholism.”
When the drinking gets out of control, it’s sometimes necessary to call GERMS, the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service, a student-run ambulance service. About one-fifth of GERMS calls are related to alcohol, but students sometimes resist the group’s help because they don’t want their parents to get hospital bills.
Kaben, a 21-year-old senior, almost had a run-in with GERMS after a Halloween party in his junior year. He’d pulled an all-nighter studying for midterms, then went out and got drunk: “I lay down on a bench to regroup and thought, ‘I’ll just take a little nap.’ ” About an hour later, a campus police officer shook him awake and said he’d have to call GERMS. “I said I was going to call my parents,” Kaben recalls. “I put the phone to my ear and then sprinted away. I looked back, and he started chasing me. Somehow I got away.”
Last year, the university instituted stricter rules—including limits on the number of people and kegs allowed at parties—and harsher punishments for breaking the rules. As a result, the social scene has moved increasingly into the bars just off campus—making for a lot of frustrating nights for those not yet 21.
When Laura gets to the front of the line, the bouncer turns her away. “US IDs only,” he says. So she heads to a bar that’s popular with freshmen because it’s so easy to get into. When she shows the bouncer her ID, he waves her in.
“Are You Going to Hurl?”
“Shhhh! We have to be quiet.”
It’s Thursday night, and at George Mason University exams are under way. Clipboard-wielding resident assistants patrol the halls, enforcing 24-hour quiet rules. Though the penalties are minor—if a student gets multiple noise violations, it’ll go on his or her record—the RAs’ presence has a chilling effect.
George Mason isn’t a big party school. Of the 30,000 students, only 4,700 live on campus. Many students are older and live far away, and the rigorous enforcement of alcohol and noise regulations makes it hard to throw parties on campus. Unless you’re friends with people in a fraternity or sorority, your options are pretty limited.
Fortunately for Jackie, a petite sophomore, she joined a sorority last year; now her social network revolves around it. Tonight she stops by a sorority sister’s on-campus apartment for a small gathering, but by the time she arrives, there’s already been a noise complaint from other students and the party has broken up.
Jackie catches a ride to a townhouse just off campus where some fraternity brothers live. For big parties, the frat enlists pledges to run a shuttle to and from campus. It’s the only way to ensure that enough girls will show up.
Tonight’s festivities center on a “big-brother unveiling”—an event in which Jackie’s sorority sister Lisa will be paired with a guy from the frat. It’s nothing sexual, just a friendly relationship.
The university prohibits big-brother/big-sister matches because unveilings usually involve binge drinking and mild hazing. But the students do it anyway—it’s fun, and it helps unite the Greek community.
Fifteen mostly sober people crowd into a small room, watching as Lisa answers questions about her future big brother. Every time she gets one wrong, she has to take a sip of the pink vodka concoction she’s drinking. She’s wearing a blindfold and can’t stop giggling.
“What’s his favorite color?” one of the sorority sisters asks.
“Turquoise?” Lisa says.
Lisa says she feels sick. “If you’re going to hurl, let us know!” a bystander says. Someone puts a trash can in front of her. A few minutes later, Lisa’s feeling better and ready to drink.
When a sorority sister finally takes off her blindfold and she sees who her big brother is, Lisa jumps up and hugs him. He gives her a gift: a T-shirt and a couple of bottles of booze.
Jackie heads back to campus, where her friend Mike is having people over. The 12 who show up—mainly girls who sit around listening to music and playing drinking games with cards—are the most he’s ever had in his two-bedroom apartment.
Mike keeps reminding the group to keep it down. Every once in a while, one of the guys knocks on the table to make him think an RA is at the door. Panicked, Mike turns out the lights and tells everyone to shut up. Eventually they all head to an on-campus diner for a late-night snack.
The next day, Mike declares the gathering a success. He sets his Facebook status to read: “Whoa . . . last night was crazy!”
“You Can Crash in My Bed”
At bar-closing time in College Park, Adam loses track of Kelly in the flood of people leaving. He sends her a text message. No one talks on the phone anymore; you either text or chat online or contact people through Facebook.
Kelly texts back, inviting Adam over to “hang out.” He brings Mike along as his wingman. When they arrive, Kelly and her roommate pour wine from a box. The boys spot a Nintendo 64 video-game system and start playing.
After a while, the girls turn off the video games and switch on a porn channel. “They were hinting,” Adam says.
By now, though, Kelly’s so drunk that she stumbles when she walks, and Adam has lost interest.
“You can crash in my bed,” she says when he gets up to leave. But all Adam wants to do is go home.