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As West Virginia University embarks on a hazing deathwatch, here, from a WVU faculty member…

… are the words of wisdom you need to hear as you seek to understand what has been going on in Morgantown. From her you-are-there perch in WVU’s sociology department, Karen Weiss has written Party School, a first-hand account of what Clifford Geertz might have called “deep play” at America’s colleges. These are excerpts from an interview she gave at Inside Higher Education:

Many residential universities, such as the so-called party schools … 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.


[People who live in bad neighborhoods] feel terrorized, they change their routines to avoid certain streets, they don’t leave their homes at night. In many college towns, residents are beginning to experience similar problems (albeit less life-threatening) as a result of a minority of extreme partiers who make life uninhabitable [I think Weiss is conflating two phrases here: life unendurable and neighborhoods uninhabitable.] for their neighbors.


While it is easy to see why bar and club owners are reluctant to eliminate drink specials or other promotions – after all, they make their profits from student drinking – it is more difficult to understand why university administrators, police and local town officials have not been more effective in reducing some of the problems caused by the party subculture. In the long run, it really boils down to a rather controversial reality: the party school is itself a business, and alcohol is part of the business model. Schools lure students to attend their schools with the promise of sports, other leisure activities and overall fun. Part of this fun, whether schools like it or not, is drinking. Thus, even as university officials want to keep students safe, they also need to keep their consumers happy. This means letting the alcohol industry do what it does best – sell liquor.


That last bit is way important. All prospective university students interested in drinking know where to go – Cal State Chico, UWV, University of Georgia, University of Texas, almost anywhere in Wisconsin – to fit in. It’s like – who doesn’t know that Key West is a better place to drink yourself silly than Salt Lake City? And just as Key West’s business model – the thing it does to attract tourist dollars – involves the provision of alcohol every five steps or so down Duval Street, so central to UWV’s business model – the thing it does to attract applicants – is the provision of alcohol five steps off campus in every direction. Many of its most high-profile traditions (Weiss cites couch burning and rioting) are about alcohol.

You expect eighteen year olds who may have chosen WVU because the joint is gin-soaked not to drink gin once they get there?

You expect UWV to change its business model?

As Weiss points out, it’s not just a business model. It’s a way of life.


Update: DRC, a reader, updates UD on the student. He has died.


Don’t forget: The president of West Virginia University is Gordon Gee.

Margaret Soltan, November 14, 2014 1:38PM
Posted in: sport

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One Response to “As West Virginia University embarks on a hazing deathwatch, here, from a WVU faculty member…”

  1. charlie Says:

    Regarding the WVU student who died, Nolan Burch, he was from upstate New York. He, or someone he knew, was willing to pay more than twice the amount that he would have if he was in state. Hell of a testament of the efficacy of the laid, loaded and drunk bidness model that schools such as WVU practice.

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