A new book details campus and community hazards of thriving party school culture, and complacency of administrators who fail to address it.

Allie Grasgreen of Inside Higher Ed interviews the author of Party School: Crime, Campus, and Community, Karen G. Weiss (an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University). Weiss details the extensive and toxic party culture on these campuses and explains how and why it’s allowed to exist.

…Weiss blames not just the students who feel entitled to get wasted and steal street signs, or who explain away drunken sexual assaults as just “stuff that happens,” but also the administrators who fail to do anything significant about it. …

Q: Let’s start at the end. You talk in the book about administrators’ ambivalence to the party subculture, but admit in the “sobering” conclusion that most of their efforts to combat it (dry events or campuses, cracking down on parties, or employing a social norms approach) have proved largely fruitless. The change, you say, has to come from students themselves; they have to believe in the negative repercussions of such a culture. So is it hopeless?

A: I wouldn’t say hopeless, but I admit that I am not particularly optimistic about a change, at least in the immediate future. Many residential universities, such as the so-called party schools that I focus on in the book, have become so well-known for their super-charged party environments that it would be very difficult to change the culture without negatively impacting enrollments that are now dependent upon the lure of this party scene. Moreover, many of the disruptive behaviors that I document in the book (e.g., burning couches, riots) have become “traditions” for both current students and alumni. As such, traditions are very difficult to change.

Q: How and why has the culture at party schools become more extreme over the years?

A: Even as some students at most residential universities and colleges have always partied in extreme ways, I argue in the book that an extreme party lifestyle has become more pervasive at the so-called party school due to a disproportionate number of students who come to these schools not to study but to party.  When students are more committed to the party scene than to their academic obligations, they are less concerned about how their behaviors impact their own lives. But another problem in recent years is the diffusion of this party subculture into surrounding neighborhoods, due in large part to explosive enrollments and shortages of student housing. This has meant that extreme partying and the bad behaviors that go along with it are no longer contained in student “ghettos” but are impacting many other areas of the college community.