Once a prominent social figure, the house party dies

The house party, a longtime staple of weekend activity at St. Thomas and social facilitator for 20-year-olds throughout the area, has died.

Known for its red Solo cups, dance music and raucous behavior, the house party was a liberator for many students who spent far too long in the library or at work during the week. For those Tommies, the house party provided social refuge — always dependable, always loyal.

Whether or not you were involved with it, you could always tell when the house party was near. Beginning Thursdays and continuing through Saturdays, one could usually spot a number of St. Thomas students wandering through the Merriam Park neighborhood, trying to find the house party that night.

The house party was always ready to celebrate when a team played, a “hell week” ended or a holiday arrived. It served as the main outlet for birthday revelry and gave students a chance to set school aside for a few hours and meet new people.

Despite strong resistance from the university and local law enforcement, the college pastime flourished behind the scenes for many years, welcoming new supporters with each incoming freshman class. The house party managed to sneak past authorities, thanks to black sheets over windows and concrete basements, but such transparency couldn’t last forever.

Two years of ups and downs

Worries for the health of house party began to build in spring 2008 when St. Paul police issued 76 citations for underage drinking at a residence in the 2100 block of Temple Court. The event sent shockwaves through the St. Thomas community, alerting students, neighbors and administration of the magnitude the house party had reached.

But the fear that incident lit inside students eventually faded, and soon enough, another semester arrived, staging the house party’s comeback. Besides rumors of “ZAP patrols” dampening some weekends, the 2008-2009 school year bore witness to many successful nights for the house party. For awhile, things seemed to have returned to normal for the house party.

As classes resumed in fall 2009, the house party got some unsuspected news. The Zero Adult Providers project, previously one of the house party’s main adversaries, was becoming unstable. With university officials and Public Safety officers confused about budget concerns and cuts to the ZAP program, the house party saw students become less anxious and greet it with open arms. Such openness didn’t last long, however.

Only a couple weeks into the semester, TommieMedia posted a letter from Elaine Weber Nelson, a 1986 St. Thomas graduate who was fed up with students’ disregard for the surrounding community. She had had enough of the litter, the puke, the late nights, and the house party was somewhat to blame. At this point for the house party, the end was near, and some students could sense it.

City ordinance brings final days

The house party’s last breath came soon after the city of St. Paul passed its social host ordinance Dec. 12. When the ordinance went into effect, the house party suffered a large hit in prominence and popularity. At the time, many denied the ordinance’s effect and attributed the house party’s dip to the stresses of finals week and the holiday season, but slowly and surely, the house party was letting go.

Some had hoped to see a revival in the house party’s condition after a long J-Term break, but the fear of a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail proved too much for the party and most of its advocates. Small groups fought to sustain the house party, hosting sporadic tournaments and themed get-togethers to show not all support had been lost. Unfortunately, though, the grandeur was gone.

No one was willing to risk getting caught fraternizing with the house party, especially with so many banding together to put it to an end. Why take a chance at getting busted when the local bars offered a safe and legal alternative?

Moving on in the house party’s absence

Gone now are the Facebook invites and mass text messages telling of the house party’s next blowout. Instead, students are planning weekend getaways and renting buses to hang out with their friends, as if they have forgotten what it was like to walk into a house full of classmates—both friends and strangers—all singing, dancing and having a good time. Undoubtedly, bars around the area have seen a growth in attendance. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, we’ll have to wait and see.

The house party will surely show up again in some new incarnation, but never as it was before. The house party as we knew it, with all its spontaneity and camaraderie, is gone. It will be missed.

Grant Goerke can be reached at gdgoerke@stthomas.edu.

26 Replies to “Once a prominent social figure, the house party dies”

  1. Maybe now students at St. Thomas will see that you can hang out with your friends after classes without drinking. Not only is getting drunk stupid, but it’s dangerous and dehumanizing. It’s a form of escapism that turns people into animals by temporarily destroying their power of reason, and whenever I see people getting drunk, I get very sad, because there are much more constructive ways of hanging out with your friends.
    When I was at St. Thomas, I found a family of like-minded people amongst the seminarians and the Catholic Studies students, and I had a lot of fun and forged friendships that, God willing, will last a lifetime. And, along the way, my faith in God was strengthened and I learned what love was. All college students are looking for love and friendship, but many look for love in the wrong places, hence the reckless behavior described in the letter to the editor referenced by this article, and the epidemic of casual sex amongst my age group (I’m 23). I also think a lot of people are searching for who they are, but, as I’ve discovered, that only happens when you find God, who is also the source of all love. So, when you find God, you find love and you find who you are, and I can attest to that personally. I wish more people understood that.

  2. Quite the diatribe above me. Hand full of chill pills, stat. I don’t think drinking has anything to do with connecting with God. A man in a leather jacket stumbled into the Basilica during Easter Sunday one time and loudly professed his sins to a statue of Mary. He was drunk but certainly didn’t let that get in the way of chatting with his pal God. And he was wearing a leather jacket so you definitely know he knew himself and just how cool he was. True story.

    Anyway, good article, Grant. It does sound like it’s a dying breed but as long as there are copies of Animal House, Old School and pretty much any Seann William Scott movie, there will always be the clever rogues who organize the underground party scene.

  3. Toga?
    Unfortunately, prohibition never works. College students are going to drink, and nothing is going to stop them. It is a part of our culture. We should not be criminalizing our fellow classmates. Whoever thinks that those who go to house parties are a bunch of stupid, godless people should be embarrassed. We all have the freedom to choose if we want to drink. Personally, I prefer a $5 cup over $5 drinks. College is a good place to make stupid mistakes and learn life lessons. Cheers!

  4. @John Deede: Actually, I think the whole point of this article is that prohibition DOES work, and you CAN stop college drinking. For better or for worse, that does seem to be the case.

    The sense I got from the article was that this “social host ordinance” outlawed house parties, which seemed a bit draconian to me. But I looked it up again, and in fact it only makes party hosts responsible for illegal underage drinking at their residences. Now, I’m all for a party, but if the UST house party was incapable of surviving without a bunch of under-21’st flouting the law, then maybe its demise is not so lamentable after all.

    Not that the drinking age of 21 isn’t stupid (it surely is), but as long as it’s the law, it IS the law. Can’t blame the cops and the neighbors and the school for wanting to see a perfectly legal law get enforced.

  5. James hit it right on the head – the idea was to curb underage drinking which was apparently the only supply for house parties, not to stop house parties. Whether or not the drinking age should be changed is another story all together. Perhaps all the underage drinkers who want house parties back should get together and lobby to change the drinking age to 18. With all the extra time they’ll have now without house parties to attend, I’m sure they could actually make some real progress. From my personal experience, countries with younger or no minimum drinking age, have more responsible adult drinkers. There is some good research for a Friday/Saturday night. Ban together under-agers, get a petition over to the lawmakers.

  6. @Michael. Are you telling me that because I enjoy a few drinks on the weekend makes my relationship with God any less credible than yours? Well, I’ll be honest. I kind of prefer letting loose a little bit and enjoying myself rather than sitting in the seminary on Friday nights playing Chutes and Ladders and tending to my self-righteousness.

    You say you wish more people understood the benefit of not drinking and finding love in God and all that jazz. However I must frankly suggest the benefits a night of socializing with hundreds of people can have and how this “epidemic” might not be so terrible if you’d just give it a try. ;-)

  7. Why would you purposefully move into a neighborhood where a COLLEGE is present and has been present for a very long time, and then decided to complain and moan and whine about underage drinking? I know it’s a problem, but it shouldn’t involve getting a $1000 ticket or 90 days in jail. Please tell me how that punishment fits the ‘crime’ for throwing a house party.

  8. @Celeste: It should be noted that Mike is not and never has been a seminarian. His views are his own and are in no way reflective of the young men of St. John Vianney college seminary. Nor, I should add, are they fully reflective of the views of Catholic Studies students as a whole.

    @Issac: Thank you, sir.

  9. “Are you telling me that because I enjoy a few drinks on the weekend makes my relationship with God any less credible than yours?”
    Moderate drinking is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but binge drinking and reckless drinking is a self-destructive behavior. That’s what I was referring to.

    “However I must frankly suggest the benefits a night of socializing with hundreds of people can have and how this “epidemic” might not be so terrible if you’d just give it a try. ;-)”

    Yeah, but why does binge drinking and reckless behavior have to be part of it? Why can’t you just socialize with people over nachos or something? What’s so fun about getting drunk?

  10. I’m willing to bet every dime I make for the rest of my life that underage college students from St. Thomas continue to drink on the weekend, either at house parties, in the dorms, or with fake ID’s. Any takers?

  11. Also, 18 may be the age in which one is considered an adult under the law, but most 18-year-olds, I would argue, are not mature enough to handle the responsibility that comes with consuming alcohol (I certainly would not have been mature enough). A lot of growth and maturity comes between the ages of 18 and 21, and I think that growth and maturity is necessary in order to handle the responsibility that comes with alcohol consumption, so I support the current restriction of possession of and consumption of alcoholic beverages to those age 21 and older. But, if you disagree with me, then show me why 18-year-olds are mature enough to handle consumption of alcoholic beverages.

  12. “Then show me why 18-year-olds are mature enough to handle consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

    I just got back from the Catholic Studies Rome trip, where I saw a great many people, some quite a bit under the age of 21, responsibly and moderately using alcohol on a nightly basis. This included not just Europeans (who have been raised on the stuff from birth), and not just weak wine, but some of the very Catholic Studies students of whom you speak drinking seriously adult beverages.

    Yes: there are those who do not act responsibly at the age of 18. There are also those who do not act responsibly at the age of 21. There are also a great many people who still do not act responsibly about their drinking at the age of 55. (Growth and maturation is a continuing process; it does not end in youth.) At all those ages, however, they are CHOOSING to act irresponsibly and sinfully. By age 18, citizens are morally responsible agents. We acknowledge this by emancipating them and granting them their rightful sovereign power over the country as voters. The law must not extinguish the freedom of responsible moral agents in order to prevent *some* from abusing that freedom — just as *God* has granted free will to all, despite the sinful abuse of free will by most…

  13. Point well taken, Mr. Heaney. I’ll have to ponder over that one for a bit. Thanks for replying!

  14. Last Saturday night at around 11pm I was driving on Selby Ave right across the street from St. Thomas. There were a good 15-20 people on the street and around one of the houses.

    The St. Thomas house party is most definitely not dead yet… especially considering the party was pretty much on UST’s own backyard.

  15. I would like to extend an open invitation to anyone wishing to revitalize and celebrate the spirit of the “mysterious”, “underground”, and “satan worshiping” house party to hop on a bus or in a car and visit a fine institution located in Madison, Wisconsin where the house party is as alive as Tommie Spirit!

  16. I think what it really comes down to is a culture of overwhelming narcissism. The problem is that people were getting so obliterated that they didn’t care about whose yard that empty bottle or can was going into, or whose yard they vomited/urinated/defecated on, or whom has been woken up by the raucousness of stumbling home at 3:30 talking in the “I’m so drunk that it makes me think everyone else is deaf and I must yell at everyone” voice. These are peoples lives and property that get effected and not thinking about that is what got Tommies in this mess and honestly I have no problem with the steps the community took to curb problems that would have never existed had people acted a little more responsible. Any moral issues that people want to debate, this was about practicality. How would you feel if every saturday night at 3 you were awoken to the sound of glass breaking, or someone urinating against the side of your house outside your bedroom window, or someone yelling and laughing (with no regard for the hundreds of people, who were sleeping before you passed their houses) on the walk back to campus. People have to make their own choices about drinking, and obviously far too many people were making the wrong ones.

  17. Its not dead at all. Everyone who partied before is not having a hard time finding more parties to go to. Especially for people under 21 because they can’t go into a bar unless they have fake i.d’s which I have a feeling is going to start becoming more prominant. Also, the ordinance is only effect in St. Paul when there are student who live right over the Lake street bridge where hte host ordinance is not a problem at all.

  18. Bo-
    Just because people moved into a neighborhood where a college is doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still respect them. You moved into THEIR community, so you need to either learn to live with the community and have mutual respect for each other, or find a community that accepts that kind of behavior

  19. I fully support the St. Paul ordinance and the Minneapolis one as well. There is little reason behind why either should not exist. Acknowledging that drinking amongst underage students is more or less an inevitability, I would be disappointed in society if that meant the problem should be ignored. The arguments against this ordinance sound to me like children complaining that they can’t play with someone else’s toys. It is childish and serves to reinforce the idea that 18 years of age is not enough in this country. I honestly do not understand the sense of entitlement underage people have towards alcohol nor the desire to flaunt their “maturity” after consuming it by traipsing around as a general menace. For those that regard alcohol as a social lubricant of sorts it is a virtual guarantee that the benefits one receives from socializing while sober will outweigh the benefits from socializing drunk.   

  20. My biggest problem with the social host ordinance is the fact that I (being 21) can make the decision to not support my under 21 housemates by leaving my house if they want to have a party but I can still face the same prosecution as if I were there. Also, I understand the concept that they are trying to push but the punishment still does not fit the crime and is excessive.
    We will have to wait and see as the weather gets nicer, but, in my opinion the drunk and random street walkers are only going to get worse as they no longer have a place to safely drink. You will most likely find that instead of these ‘miscreants’ going to a single place you will have roving bands of underage drinkers just walking around, getting in trouble because they have no where better to go – that also means a lot more yards will become garbage cans, bathrooms and places to puke :) Vandalism will likely increase – which I can already attest to, having lived in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Thomas, and never having a problem until recently when we had some kids come through and spray paint our whole back alley including garages, vehicles and other personal property.

    Say what you will but I think this is only going to ultimately cause a bigger problem for the neighborhoods surrounding St…

  21. I support the new policy wholeheartedly. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of the homeowners around us. Not only did they purchase a home, but they purchased peace-of-mind as well. They should be able to live in/own a house (regardless of its proximity to a college campus) without worry of being awakened at 2 in the morning. Some of these people have newborn babies; others could be newlywed couples; and others could be elderly people who need their sleep. Let’s stop being selfish for a moment and think about the impact loud parties have on those around us. We need to weigh the importance of parties against the importance of our obligation to our fellow community members. For me, I think that homeowners’ peace of mind trumps some college students’ need to party.

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