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Changing party culture, one Friday at a time

Morgan Steele, Staff Writer

This year’s party culture is changing, and while individuals and organizations responsible don’t want to deprive you of your sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (or dubstep, as your preferences may fall), they do want you to use your brain before, during and after partaking in any of the three.

A major change in the way parties and events are planned this year is how students can obtain event contracts. Phil Wiltzius, health educator and area coordinator of the Ballfields, has redesigned the process for completing a contract.

“Last year… students had to get three or four different signatures from different administrators and it was hard to track down people,” Wiltzius said. “Now I’m in charge of the contracts and I can be the single contact person.”

Wiltzius has also incorporated an aspect of substance use education into the event contract process. When a student goes to have a contract signed for a party where drinking will take place, she/he is asked to have a 20-minute conversation with Wiltzius about safety.

“I am scared, at times, of how people with alcohol poisoning or other substance use issues are treated on campus,” Wiltzius said. “People need to be more aware of the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning and ask for help when their friend needs it, instead of throwing them in their bed to let them sleep it off. I am, unfortunately, aware of times when people have died because they needed help and didn’t get it, and I don’t want to see that happen at [Warren Wilson].”

Alex Barbour, Kelsey Chandler and Ella Denny at the "Sparkles and Spandex" Party

According to Wiltzius, event contracts serve multiple purposes.

“It’s a great tool for walking students through hosting a successful campus or hall event,” Wiltzius said. “Second, I think it allows students an opportunity to go to an event they know they can be safer at. Hosts of a registered event have taken the appropriate precautions and thought to make their event fun and safe.”

Event contracts are required if students are hosting an event that doubles the room occupancy and can be obtained by e-mailing Wiltzius.

Additionally, in efforts to move campus party culture toward an atmosphere of awareness, the RISE Crew has been sponsoring “conscious parties.” The concept first arose in conversations between Kelly Kelbel, supervisor of the RISE Crew, and Erin Murphy, a former crew member who graduated last spring.

“We talked about how party spaces are the perfect environment for ending violence because, on this campus, a lot of the sexual violence that happens is connected to parties, alcohol and substance use,” Kelbel said. “In those conversations, we talked about how parties can be fun, safe, inclusive spaces for everyone and thought about what the role of the RISE Crew could be in helping to create those spaces as a crew that is focused on creating healthy relationships, ending violence and helping everyone feel included.”

Thus, the RISE Crew began sponsoring conscious parties last year and continues to help host them throughout this year. The most recent was the Sparkles and Spandex event in Stephenson, where glitter-smothered and spandex-clad students danced in the first floor common room. It was hot, sweaty and loud like any dance party you’d find on campus, but what set Sparkles and Spandex apart was that key word: “conscious.”

“The term ‘conscious’… is to always be aware of what’s going on, being responsible and keeping an eye out for other community members,” said junior Lil’ Bear, a RISE crew member. “It’s looking at the whole picture and not just like you, at this moment, with these people, but OK, how is this affecting everybody?”

In context of the party scene, having consciousness includes looking out for party-goers who find themselves in negative situations – whether someone’s put in an uncomfortable position with someone else or an individual has had too much to drink – and feeling comfortable enough to help them out. The RISE Crew calls this “bystander intervention,” and one of the primary motivators to sponsor conscious parties was it’s absence in Warren Wilson’s previous party culture.

“I think people are less inclined to intervene with strangers, even if you’re in the same community, because it’s not your problem,” said junior Evan Cohen, another RISE crew member. “I know sometimes people don’t want to be the bad guy if they see somebody doing something that isn’t safe. You don’t want to be the buzzkill, but sometimes that’s totally necessary.”

“It can kind of be uncomfortable to take responsibility for something that is happening to another community member by another community member,” Lil’ Bear said. “It takes a good amount of confidence and will power to step outside of a circle of dancing friends, put yourself in an uncomfortable situation and intervene…. The idea of the conscious party is to create a norm for the party culture on campus that is conscious.”

One of the goals, then, of conscious parties is to normalize respect and awareness at college parties, where people can feel comfortable to do things that they might be scared to do otherwise.

“Bystander intervention is one of the main keys in preventing violence,” said Kelbel. “Parties are a great place to do that.”

It’s not a goal that can be achieved without some serious planning, and the RISE Crew spends a significant amount of time working out the details of each conscious party.

“We have a planning meeting as step one to discuss how is this party going to be made conscious, what are the ideas for the party, what is the theme, where is it going to be held, who is going to be held responsible and when is it going to be,” Lil’ Bear said.

Scenes from the "Sparkles and Spandex" party

A big part of the planning process is helping the individuals hosting the event learn how to feel comfortable intervening in negative situations if they have to. This happens in the second step of the planning process,
the dorm meeting.

“We more-or-less sponsor parties where other people host them,” Lil’ Bear said. “So where our role comes in with the dorm meetings is to give a small, quick workshop on bystander intervention and bringing up possible situations people might need to intervene in.”

In the next step, everyone discusses and assigns host roles. Some individuals wear red arm bands to indicate that they can help intervene in uncomfortable situations, and others organize the “Sex, Lies and Lemonade” stand, where non-alcoholic beverages and crafts/activities are provided.

When this has happened, the event organizer applies for an event contract with Wiltzius. When planning any other (non-conscious) party, this is the only step required. While planning can certainly help lessen the problems party-throwers encounter, it doesn’t necessarily eliminate them, and Wiltzius and the RISE Crew both agree that the objective behind informed party planning is to keep everyone safe.

“Conscious parties don’t mean that conflict won’t arise, but that people will feel confident intervening in situations when [they do] arise,” Kelbel said. “The more they do it, the more other people will do it, the more they feel comfortable doing it.”

“Event registration shows that students can take issues into their own hands and manage a successful and safe event with or without alcohol,” Wiltzius said. “That’s one of the reasons why I think we haven’t seen more restrictions on
student parties and events.”

According to the RISE Crew, the most important aspect of conscious parties is community involvement. In order to change party culture on campus into something that everyone feels safe and comfortable about, the community needs to want to change too.

“There’s so much importance in… the community itself being in on it, being really supportive, understanding of what a conscious party means and being willing to participate in that… Not expecting other people to take on those roles but to do it themselves.”

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