Editor’s Note: Throughout the week, TommieMedia will be featuring stories on drinking and campus partying. Make sure to check out the Perspectives on Partying page for daily updates.
Keg rolls on the quad, Oktoberfest celebrations, all-you-can-drink beer – St. Thomas dances and events were different in the past.
“We always used to have a big Halloween party in the field house,” said Carrie Cleary, who graduated in 1987. “The drinking age was 19, and we had beer served right there.”
Drinking used to be allowed at many on-campus events, and St. Thomas occasionally provided the beverages. In a 1976 Aquin article, a student council president urged his classmates to take advantage of all the benefits their activity fees provided, including the “gallons and gallons of beer” provided by the All-College Council at events.
At the 1974 Mid-Winter Carnival, students could buy $5 tickets for a school-sponsored ski trip that included “transportation, tow ticket and all the beer you can drink,” according to The Aquin.
Another tradition was the Senior Send-Off, an event held at a park close to St. Thomas where students could gather to say goodbye to the senior class.
“It was a big mass party outside with bands, food and stuff,” Cleary said. “You paid $7 for all the beer you could drink. My junior year it rained the whole time and they ran out of beer – it ended up being chaos. I can see why they put an end to it.”
The partying climate at St. Thomas has changed over the years, partly due to different legal drinking ages. Prohibition discouraged drinking at St. Thomas in the ‘20s, but in later years drinking was fairly commonplace, according to Aquin articles. Until 1973, the legal drinking age was 21. In 1973, it was lowered to 18, raised to 19 in 1976, and raised again to 21 in 1986. So for the majority of the ‘70s and ‘80s, most St. Thomas students could legally drink.
“Having the drinking age at 18 meant there tended to be more parties and gatherings on campus than off campus,” said Doug Hennes ‘77, vice president for university relations.
Parties in the residence halls
Cleary, who lived in Dowling Hall, said she remembered numerous parties in the residence halls, many of which were organized by resident advisers.
“We would have parties on our floor, sometimes with our brother floor,” Cleary said. “We would make this ‘garbage can drink.’ People would throw all their liquor into a vat.”
Cleary said one popular event was the “Screw Your Roommate” party.
“You’d get the chance to set up your roommate with someone from your brother floor, maybe some random guy you thought was cute,” Cleary said. “It was always quite humorous, and it would end with a party.”
Cleary said she didn’t remember Safety and Security officers, Public Safety’s predecessors, breaking up parties. She said they would come around at midnight to make sure all the men had left the dorm and remind students to keep the noise down, but said she didn’t remember them being “out and about on campus to pick you up if you got drunk.”
Drinking at dances, events
Students in the ‘70s and ‘80s could drink at on-campus dances including the Mid-Winter Carnival in February, the Halloween dance, and the Back-To-School-Blues dance in early September. Sometimes advertisements from beer companies were used to promote the dances, according to Aquin articles.
Oktoberfest was celebrated at an off-campus park with beer, and homecoming week included bonfires, raft races on the Mississippi and keg rolls on the quad. When St. Thomas had fraternities, Greek Week included keg-tossing contests and other events organized by fraternity members.
One event, a seven-person relay race to Tiffany’s Bar and Grill, was described in a 1975 Aquin article. Participants ran in relay teams to Tiffany’s, drink a pitcher of beer, and run back. There was also a “Slug 100” event where participants ran 100 yards, stopping every 25 yards to drink a can of beer.
After the drinking age was raised to 21 in 1986, St. Thomas had to limit drinking at events. Beer gardens, where students were required to show ID’s to drink, popped up at dances and campus events. Alcohol was eliminated from some other popular campus events entirely.
Comparing the past party climate to the present
Peg Louiselle, ’85, said people did party a lot when she was in college, but it wasn’t the same level as today.
“Binge drinking was a concern then, but not as much as today,” she said. “Not a lot of people I hung out with were into that. There was a lot of moderate drinking, but it wasn’t as out of control.”
Louiselle said students went out a few nights a week, and the most popular nights were Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. She said there were house parties every weekend, and students would go to nearby bars as well. Cleary said one popular bar was Stewart’s, which was in the space now occupied by the 128 Café. She said O’Gara’s, Tiffany’s and Plum’s were the other popular bars.
One major difference that Cleary and Louiselle observed was the change in student-neighbor relations. Both said the main concern in the surrounding neighborhoods during their time at St. Thomas was parking space, not partying. They said partying and student off-campus behavior were issues, but didn’t seem to be as much of a problem as today.
Hennes said St. Thomas’ growth was an important factor that led to the change in the partying climate.
“St. Thomas has evolved from a small men’s college with just the “main campus” north of Summit Avenue through the 1970s to a larger coeducational, comprehensive university,” Hennes said. He said this means more students are living in the neighborhood now.
“My hunch is that we had fewer neighborhood complaints back then than we do today,” he said. “Both because more parties were held on campus, and we were a considerably smaller school with [fewer] students living off campus.”
Cleary said one thing that hasn’t changed from her time at St. Thomas to the present is how students view drinking in college.
“At the time, you don’t think the amount of drinking you’re doing is excessive,” she said. “But looking back, it probably was.”
Katie Broadwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.