The Evolution of Partying at Western University

It’s Friday night. You’re wearing sweats, working on your third piece of pizza and catching up on this week’s episode of Scandal. Suddenly, your phone vibrates. Your friend from lecture asks if you’re going out tonight, she says it’s supposed to be a wild time! You wrinkle your eyebrows a bit, look over at the pizza, then at the T.V, then back at your sweats. Just the thought of dressing up, pre-gaming, and going out to see people is enough to make you stay in for the rest of the semester. You laugh to yourself and just before pressing play on the remote, you reply “Not tonight, but maybe next time! :P”

***

There are a lot of reasons why students in London, Ontario have been veering away from Western University’s once notorious night life.

When asked why she stopped participating in London’s weekend night life, second year Political Science student, Kelly says “I crave better relationships than those established at a bar and the bar scene just doesn’t align with my values a lot.”

Last year, The Guardian did a survey that revealed shocking results: 113 out of 196 young adults (aged 18-25) agreed that a night in would be more preferable to a night out. That means that on average, 57% of university aged students don’t want to go out and drink.

In contrast, a 2011 research study done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) revealed that 65% of university students drink alcohol in a given week.

These studies show a dramatic decrease when it comes to students partaking in binge drinking and partying at their universities.

Millenials are often discussed in the media for being obsessed with technology and social media, lazy and unmotivated. They haven’t, however, been recognized for a lack of partying. Instead, it’s often been the opposite. So what happened?

In 1993, Western University’s entrance average for the incoming class was lower than the provincial level, but the number of partying students was high. In response to this predicament, the school lowered its entrance standards. They needed to maintain revenue and expand the decreasing class sizes. To keep up student morale, the school administration remodelled their approach towards admissions and enrolment. They would place a heavy focus on three initiatives: guaranteed admission to the scholarship program, a guaranteed spot in residence for first-year students and a guaranteed spot in first-year courses with necessary prerequisites.

With stride, the academic rates of the flailing University rose. For a decade, the schools admission standards were amongst the highest in Ontario and they had stronger graduation and retention rates than ever before.

Then, in 2010 an unexpected article in Playboy Magazine shook Western of its rising academic reputation and brought it back to its buried past. The magazine declared the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) as one of the top ten party schools in North America. The magazine cited the school for its “kicking bar scene” and “monumental occasions like Halloween and St. Patricks Day.”

At the time Western’s vice-provost, John Doerksen, explained that “the school had been making a serious effort since the 1990’s to raise its academic profile and shed its party reputation.”

To the dismay of the school administration, students enjoyed the renewed reputation. And instead of turning potential students away, it drew them in.

After the scandalous article was published, the floodgates of Western University opened once again and the population of the school was at its peak. In 2013, they even had to renovate an existing residence, Ontario Hall, in order to accommodate close to 1000 more students.

Two years later, with admissions still high, the entrance average for incoming first year students was the third highest in the country, at an astonishing rate of 89.7%.

How had the school bounced back from its revived party reputation?

Victor, a second year BMOS student, says “we all worked hard to get here, but in first year everyone wants to experience the party life that Western is known for. People used to binge drink in their residences on weekends until the building staff shut it down. But in second year people realized they needed to focus back on school.”

With an increasing interest in pursuing post-graduate studies, students seem to be focused on their academics, despite the easy access partying that exists at Western and other universities.

Victor explains that “going out often is too expensive on a student budget…I can’t afford to pay for alcohol, cabs and cover on a weekly basis. It’sjust not worth it.”

When students go out to party, the pressure is on. They have to look good, be fun and want to spend money. Partying often includes excessive drinking, which can lead to a variety of unsafe experiences and regrets.

From a female perspective, third year Geology student Jenny says “just because I’m a girl at a bar does not mean I want to be touched and pulled away by creepy guys…I want to be with my friends. Party culture has become unsafe for girls.”

Without restraints like parents or professors, partying can often have hazardous results. Jenny says that “female students know the stories, and they’re being careful to avoid becoming the subject of one.”

While it used to attract the majority of university students, it seems that party culture is changing and carrying along negative consequences.

The decline of interest in partying can then be attributed to a few possible factors: students focusing on their academics, trying to save money, not wanting unwarranted sexual advances and trying to develop genuine relationships.

The question remains. Without partying on a regular basis with friends and strangers alike, how will students continue to connect with each other socially?

Jenny says “honestly, I would rather stay in with a few friends and watch a movie. Just enjoy each other’s company. I feel like that doesn’t happen very often around here.”

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