News & Politics

Where’s the Party?

College kids still drink a lot and stay up late, but now they face stricter rules and the possibility of vicious online rumors. Tagging along with students from five local universities may make you glad you’ve already graduated.

When beer-pong players land a Ping-Pong ball in a cup, the other team has to drink. All photographs by Chris Leaman

It’s senior night at the University of Maryland, and for 22-year-old Adam and his friends, that means they don’t have to pay a $3 cover charge at popular College Park bars.

Even a small savings is appreciated, because the guys go to bars four or five nights a week. Another way they save: “pregaming,” or warming up with drinks at home.

“We’ve developed a great method, which is to drink yourself retarded before you go out,” Adam says. He uses a beer bong for pregaming; the funnel attached to a tube is great for drinking fast.

At a sports bar just off campus, Adam’s friend Amir buys a round of kamikaze shots. The boys cheer and throw them back. They know that their beer-guzzling, shot-pounding, big-man-on-campus days are numbered, and they intend to make the most of them.

The guys feel they have a pretty good idea of what the “real world” will be like. Sitting in an office all day, if they’re lucky enough to get a job. Paying rent or moving back in with Mom and Dad. Dry cleaning. Taxes. 401(k)s.

One thing seems clear. It won’t be as good a time as college, where they have all the freedom of adulthood and almost none of the responsibility.

The Perfect College Day

Adam and his friends settle in for a game of quarters—bouncing quarters off the table and into a cup—and become so focused that no one notices when Adam slips away. A thin guy with light brown hair, Adam is boy-band cute. Today, he says, was the perfect college day: He went to two hours of class, watched an afternoon movie, had a study session, and worked out at the gym. Then it was time to start drinking.

When Adam returns, he’s grinning. “I’m going to hook up with my neighbor!” he says. He spotted Kelly, a brunette in a black dress, when he went to the bar for a drink. “We’ve had chemistry for a while,” he says. “I went over and did a little freak dancing just so she knows I’m interested.”

Fifteen minutes later, she’s sitting on his lap. With long, dark hair, Kelly is very pretty. She’s also very drunk, a fact that becomes obvious when she gives Adam a lap dance in front of his friends.

“He’s been crushing on this girl forever,” says Amir, leaning away so they can’t hear. “But he can do better.”

The most drunk Adam’s ever gotten was at a party where there was wine. Not used to drinking it, Adam didn’t know his limits: “I blacked out a little bit, but I remember playing around with a fire extinguisher in the hallway.”

Adam and Amir—friends since they were 11—both have internships at a marketing firm and are hoping to work there after graduation. Another friend, Mike, doesn’t have any job prospects. He figures he’ll join the Army or the National Guard. “I’m not good at anything,” he says. “I’m a pothead.”

Aside from marijuana, Adderall is the only drug Adam’s friends use. An amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it sells on campus for $5 a pill to kids who use it as a study aid. Once when Amir took it, he read an entire textbook in one night. “It boosts your confidence,” he says. “Like, ‘Wow, I’m actually learning!’ ”

The guys usually smoke pot in private so they won’t have to share it with too many people. They almost never encounter harder drugs.

“I went to one party,” Adam says, “and I walked into the bathroom. This kid’s nose was bleeding because he’d tried to snort. I wanted to leave after that.”

As the friends continue their game of quarters, Adam leads Kelly onto the dance floor for some grinding.

Big Plans and No Time to Waste

At Jin Lounge in DC’s U Street neighborhood, 21-year-old Tiffany and ten of her friends are enjoying a night out. It’s happy hour, and the girls are sipping peach martinis and mojitos and snacking on Asian-fusion appetizers.

“Black people don’t mess with kegs!” says Tiffany, a fifth-year senior at Howard University.

A full-figured girl who talks and laughs loud, Tiffany has big plans and no time to waste. She’s already writing grant proposals to fund her first business: a cemetery. “People die every day,” she says. “I’m making logical business decisions that will never go out of style.”

Tiffany grew up in south Phoenix—“ghettohood,” she says—and started buying tequila lollipops from the ice-cream man in fourth grade. She got her first fake ID at age 12.

As a freshman at Howard, she went to house parties but found them juvenile. Odessa—cheap vodka—was the drink of choice, which meant hangovers were guaranteed. “You wear jeans and flip-flops versus dresses and heels,” she says.

Junior year, she started going to clubs like Platinum in DC’s Penn Quarter where the crowd is older and guys can afford to buy girls drinks. She still likes going to clubs and dancing all night—Love off New York Avenue, Northeast, and the Park at Fourteenth in downtown DC are favorites—but she considers happy hours more sophisticated.

A college tradition: slamming 21 shots on your 21st birthday.

The girls won’t run into as many Howard students here at Jin as they would at Alero, another sleek U Street hangout, where they can walk in any night and count on finding people they know. “There’s nothing like going to a black school,” Tiffany says. “We all eat in the cafeteria and have small, intimate classes. We’re like a family.”

Alice, a friend of Tiffany’s, is sipping water instead of cocktails. She hasn’t been able to drink since she overindulged about a month ago. “I ordered a mango martini the other night—my favorite—but I had to send it back,” she says.

On the night she had too much, Alice was working as a promoter for a company that throws lesbian parties around the city. An ex-girlfriend helped her get the job. She had at least four shots at home, two Long Island iced teas at the party, and a Midori sour. “I was floored,” she says. “I don’t want to feel that way ever again.”

As bad as that was, Alice—who has dreadlocks and wears baggy jeans—says it wasn’t the most drunk she’s ever gotten. One time during junior year, she stuck a straw into a pitcher of margaritas and drank the entire thing in two minutes.

Like Tiffany, Alice has an entrepreneurial streak. She’s launching a clothing line and helps organize conferences for Howard. The girls say their ambition is common among Howard students. Says Alice: “We’re kids who lived in the ’hood but are smart.”

Who says college kids don’t have any responsibilities? Photograph of rules by Lauren Sloat

“Totally, 100 Percent Anonymous”

“Do you guys want to play Edward 40 Hands?”

Kyle, a 20-year-old sophomore at George Washington University, and his friend Anna pause in the dorm hallway to consider the offer. The drinking game—inspired by the movie Edward Scissorhands—involves duct-taping 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor to your hands and not removing them until they’re empty.

Kyle and Anna decide to pass; they’re eager to get to tonight’s frat party, and Kyle has some Jack Daniel’s in his room. They can hit that before they go.

Kyle cracks the door to his room and yells, “Hello!” He’s caught his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend in the act three times already this year. Last time, he walked all the way across the room before he noticed what they were doing. His roommate didn’t seem to mind, but his girlfriend was embarrassed.

GW is known for its nice dorms, and Kyle’s is no exception. His room is laid out like a studio apartment, with its own kitchen and bathroom, a sitting room with a flat-screen TV, and two beds along the back wall.

Before leaving for the party, Kyle and Anna stop across the hall to see if Kyle’s neighbors want to come. The boys are about to smoke pot, and they offer some to Kyle and Anna, who decline.

The fraternity Kyle belongs to hosts parties pretty much every Friday. Getting into the frat house is easy for girls and frat brothers; guys who aren’t members are allowed only in the basement and backyard and have to pay $5. The house has two tables for beer pong—a drinking game that involves throwing Ping-Pong balls into cups of beer—and there’s a sign-up sheet where two-person teams can register for tonight’s tournament. There are also kegs in the backyard and basement and a cooler filled with “jungle juice”—a mixture of vodka, powdered juice, and Sprite that hides the taste of alcohol.

“We’re doing it a step up tonight—Bud Light!” Kyle says, handing Anna a beer. He makes the rounds at the party, saying hello to guests and addressing talking points, which run the gamut from his latest hookup (it was in the shower) to his faith (he’s an evangelical Christian). Then he heads down to the dance floor in the basement.

The party starts out low-key, but the beer-pong tournament gets rowdy and the dance floor gets crowded. Kyle manages to meet a girl and make out with her for about ten minutes. By 2:30, when he emerges from the basement drenched in sweat, everyone’s taking drunk pictures so they can relive the night on Facebook tomorrow.

Most students know they have to be careful about what goes on Facebook; some make a policy of putting down their drinks for pictures. But the site lets them take their names off photos they don’t want parents or employers to see, and it gives them some control over who can access their pictures.

Kids worry more about a new Web site called Juicy Campus. It has pages for schools across the country where students can post gossip. “C’mon. Give us the juice,” it says. “Posts are totally, 100% anonymous.” Topics are often things like who the biggest slut on campus is or which guys are secretly gay. Or they’ll target one person, using first and last names and asking others to weigh in.

On the GW page, someone wrote that a certain guy “is a loser. He hit on his straight friend. Twice. What a FAGGOT.” On the Georgetown page, one girl is labeled “the dirtiest slut around.” Someone else wrote about her: “definitely a huge whore. probably has STD’s, so stay away!”

Some student governments are considering blocking Juicy Campus, and students have started flooding the site with poems, off-topic questions, and messages about how Juicy Campus is cruel.

With the party winding down, Kyle and Anna decide to head back to the dorms. The hard-core drinkers are still at it, trying to finish off the beer by doing keg stands. Their friends hold their legs as they balance in a handstand on top of the keg, drinking beer upside down for as long as they can.

The game flip cup is a race: Each player on a team has to chug a beer and then flip the empty cup so it lands upside down.

Fake IDs and Drinking Games

In Georgetown, 20-year-old Laura is worried. The junior from Miami normally has no trouble getting into bars with her fake ID. But at the sports bar on M Street where she’s supposed to meet friends, it doesn’t look good. A bouncer and the bar manager are checking IDs, and a police officer is standing off to the side.

Laura asks an over-21 friend to go ahead of her. Also in line is a guy with tombs stamped on his forehead, a sign that today is his 21st birthday. When Georgetown University students turn 21, they go to the Tombs—a campus bar that’s strict about underage drinking—get stamped, and drink 21 shots.

“When my friend turned 21,” Laura says, “he had 18 shots and made his way around the bar, threw up on the back door, and then stumbled home without his shirt on. That’s the tradition.”

Laura’s fake ID says she’s from another country. “It’s my face but a different last name,” she says. “It has worked almost everywhere.” She got it in Miami through a friend.

For students without good IDs, campus parties are the best bet. It’s usually easy to buy alcohol at a certain liquor store. Says Laura: “You could walk in with a piece of cardboard that says ‘I am 21 years old,’ and they will give you alcohol.”

At parties, kegs rule. “This is a huge flip-cup and beer-pong school,” Laura says, referring to drinking games that involve plastic cups and lots of beer. The “girl goyle” is also popular. It’s a variation on a keg stand in which a girl plants her feet on top of the keg, squats down, and puts the tap in her mouth.

“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.

Keg stands—usually performed once everyone is buzzed—involve drinking from the tap while balancing upside down.

“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.

A beer bong—a funnel attached to a tube—makes the beer go down fast.

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.

This article first appeared in the February 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.

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